by Deacon Pat Derry
A Lost Son says: God loves my bad brother?
Luke tells us that “tax collectors and sinners” were drawn to Jesus. How could someone who is drowning in the consequences of wrong choices, experience such gracious acceptance and not feel loved! By contrast, the “church leaders” of the time, Pharisees and scribes, couldn’t stand the sight of it! They were theologically trained, models of upright behavior, and certain that God could not accept a sinner who willfully broke the law of God. Jesus attempted to teach them through short stories, often with a surprising turn!
Jesus taught 3 short stories about the lost – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. People have called the last story, the “Prodigal Son.” I wonder if we shouldn’t rename this parable, “The Loving Father.” As Jesus tells it, a father had two sons, the elder who worked the farm dutifully and the younger who wanted to see the world. The father gives the younger his inheritance and the boy travels to a distant country where he wastes all his money on extravagant living. When a famine hits, he is starving! He finds work feeding unclean pigs, and eating alongside them. The boy finally comes to his senses and returns home a humble and repentant sinner. Surprisingly the father welcomes him with open arms and celebrates his return with a feast!
In the retelling, Jesus’ story often ends here, but Jesus does not. Jesus continues. The elder son hears the festivities and refuses to enter the party. He is angry! “All these years I have been working like a slave for you,” and you never gave me a party! The father pleads with him, “All that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32) Jesus ends the story here. We don’t know the reaction of the older brother. Did he understand and join the party, or did he walk away in anger?
Last month we recognized the connection of the Reformation to Jonah with these words: God’s free gift of mercy is for everyone and everything! It’s Grace Alone! (For the good and the evil, people and cattle; no payment required, no behavior gives extra credit!) The younger son threw himself into the arms of his father’s mercy. Will the older son recognize that his work gives him no extra credit? Will he understand that God loves him, just as God loves everyone and forgives every humble heart? The next question is more difficult. Do you see yourself as the younger son, the older son, or maybe both?