The “Prodigal Son” is scripture that is well-known, which is easy and challenging to preach. It is easy to preach because well all know it and yet challenging to find new ways to share it.
The “Prodigal Son” is about a father with two sons, but the younger son says:
“Peace. I am outta here” and runs away.
However, the parable is deeper than it may first appear.
The younger son did ask for his inheritance, which we may consider self-centered, rude, and disrespectful. Yet, if placed into the historical context of the parable it proves to be an essential piece to the puzzle. If a child asked for their inheritance prior to the father’s death, they were stating “I wish you were dead and you are dead to me”. Thus, it breaks the parent-child relationship completely.
The younger son has shattered the parent-child relationship.
The elder son, however, continues to live into his duties and responsibilities as son. He stays home. He takes care of the farm. He manages the hired hands and slaves. He does his father’s bidding without disobeying.
We often desire to place ourselves into the parables, thus we seek to relate to the elder son or the younger son. But, we need to recall the situation.
Jesus is talking to the Scribes and the Pharisees, who would associate themselves with the elder son. They have upheld the letter of the ‘law’ (Torah/teaching).
This parable is Jesus’ response to the criticism about how can he be a great teacher of the Torah (teaching/law) while defiling himself by association with those tax collectors, those sinner, those younger sons…who have squandered away their inheritance.
Honestly, we should probably not desire to be the elder son or the younger son.
The weekend I had in Arizona was one of extravagance, we will say, concluding with the Garth Brooks concert. In fact, it was probably the most extravagant weekend of my entire life.
A dear friend since elementary school, name Megan, flew in from Oklahoma. She is another sister to my sister, as well as myself, and another daughter to our mother. We have not had a girls weekend of just us four in years, and never one such as this. Thus, my mother decided we would go ALL out: nice steak dinners, massages, pedicures, and manicures/nails.
This is the sort of welcome that the younger son received upon his return. It was extravagant. The father gifted the best because he was glad the youngest returned home, such as my mother was glad to have all her girls back home for a weekend.
As I was laying on the massage table, we begun discussing how I was born and raised in Arizona but have lived in California, Washington, and currently Indiana. She commented “Wow. You are a little gypsy, ain’t you?”.
I replied “I guess. Its been out of necessity”.
But, it started me thinking. I wonder if the younger son is sort of a gypsy. He travels from place to place. He is ‘wayward’. He does not find his way home until hitting rock bottom.
But, Lent reminds us that we are ALL the wayward, gypsy child.
We might not squander EVERYTHING we own to “sinful” living.
We might not be sitting in a pig stale thinking “that looks tasty”.
And I am not talking about the pig, I am talking about the feed for the pigs.
But, we have ALL gone wayward.
It is funny. We all know this as the “Prodigal Son”, but “prodigal” is not included.
Has anyone ever looked “prodigal” up in a dictionary?
Prodigal means extravagant, lavish, and excessive (spending).
It is the “Prodigal Son” because of his excessive spending, which was well beyond his budget and means.
But, what if it is the parable of the “Prodigal Father”?
The story of a father who heard his younger son say “you are dead to me”, thus confident to never have contact with his son again.
The son, however, returns after hitting rock bottom.
The father chooses to respond not with punishment or simply hiring him as a hired hand, but responds with welcome and with open arms of love while basking in the joy
The father says to bring him a robe, but not any robe… it is the best robe.
The father says bring him rings for his hands and sandals for his feet.
The father says to prepare for a feast and celebration, complete with music and dancing.
The father says to prepare the fatted calf to be served, which especially in the biblical era was a HUGE deal and was reserved for only the largest, most special, and significant celebrations.
Perhaps, the parable is about the extravagance of the father in grace, mercy, and love.
SO, as the wayward children we are, we should not consider Confession and Absolution, Lent, or our journey back home in reconciled relationship with God and neighbor as “I am SO in trouble and God will be MAD”, but instead “I messed up and I need to talk to God” confident that we will be received like the younger son coming home to the Prodigal Father.
And for that, thanks be to God. Amen.
Scripture was Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Originally preached on 31 March 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).