Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11 Then Jesus[a] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’”
Have you ever lost something like a wallet or your keys? Do you go and try to find them? Drives you crazy when you can’t right?
The gospel lesson from Luke finds Jesus telling similar experiences. He’s responding to some of the religious leaders of his day questioning why Jesus hung out with so many folks from outside the religious boundaries of the day.
Jesus’ disciples may have been wondering the same thing. It seems like Jesus hung out more with folks on the margins, folks who were outside the religious institutions…prostitutes, tax collectors who weren’t very honest, widows, children (who were not counted fully as people back then…).
So, Jesus does what he normally does. He tells stories, or parables. These parables have lots of deeper meanings. It’s as if he’s telling a story with a seed planted in the words. When those words hit fertile ground, one may not notice, but those seeds grow, giving meaning and growth.
Our opening shares the setting of the grumbling questioning. Why is Jesus not only talking to these folks, but he’s eating with them?! Which, back in that day, meant that you were building a friendship.
I get it, that’s why I’m always open for sharing some coffee, drink, or food together!
Always an open invitation!
Jesus then shares a couple of parables about a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to find one lost sheep, and about a woman having 10 silver coins who loses one and then cleans the whole house, turns it upside down, to find it.
The idea of course is that no one and no thing is outside of God’s pursuit, of God’s love and presence. God will not stop until God finds the lost person and brings it back into relationship, into community.
Then we come to this parable of the lost son, or the Prodigal son. We see a loving father of two sons. The younger son wants to strike out on his own, so he asks for his father’s inheritance. In essence, he’s saying that he doesn’t need the father anymore. Notice that the father gives the inheritance to both the younger son, and the older son.
What does the younger son do? He goes to a foreign land and wastes his money on prostitutes, parties, and all sorts of other vices. Then a famine comes to the land and he doesn’t have anything to eat. He’s left to finding a job feeding pigs, which for a Jewish audience in those days, that would be the worst!
After a while, he hits rock bottom in his life. Hitting rock bottom either kills ya’ or it makes you think. The younger son is hungry, he remembers that his dad’s servants had it better than what he’s experiencing now. So, he comes up with a great speech and resolves to go back to this dad, plead forgiveness and ask to be one of his father’s hired hands.
He sets off and as he’s approaching his father’s house, his dad sees him from a distance. Our scripture says that he was filled with compassion. That word in the Greek has a deep meaning of movement in the depth of your bowels, it moved him physically with love! He runs out, puts his arms around him, hugs him…then the son tries to begin his speech, but the father isn’t listening…he’s filled with love and tells his servants to give him the finest clothes, put the ring back on his finger signifying that he’s his son…kill the fatted calf, we are throwing a party!!!! He exclaims “my son was dead, and now he’s alive!”… he’s back.
The father had not given up on his son and now his son was back!
But, then there’s the older son. He hears the music and dancing and asks a servant what’s going on. The servant, kind of matter of factly, says that his brother is back and his dad’s throwing a party in celebration! How does the older son react? He’s angry, jealous, and filled with resentment. He refuses to go to the party. But, what does the father do? He loves his older son just as much, he goes out to him as well, away from the party, and pleads for him to go in. His son, with much outward and hurt pride, says that he’s been working hard all of these years while his younger son was partying away his inheritance…and his father had never thrown a party for him. The father responds, that yes, he has been with him, but this is his brother, and he was lost, but now found…so we must celebrate.
We don’t know what happens with the older son. But, both sons were lost, and both had a father who loved them.
We can all related to both sons if we are honest. We waste our gifts and talents on all sorts of distractions and/or frivolous living…or we live in resentment and pride when we don’t get what we think we deserve. We often don’t even recognize our need until we hit rock bottom, or we are so unhappy trying to live a false life of pride and works. Yet, we have a loving God who truly is crazy in love with us. That love can cause us to grow in wonderful ways. That love gives us the ability to love ourselves, love others, and to experience love from others.
The father shows us how God loves us, how God takes on everything, even our shame… what’s more, this God becomes our shame and transforms and redeems it into something more…God’s embrace that gives us our identity as God’s beloved. We also have to remember that God is both father and mother and many other things throughout scripture. What this and other texts is trying to share with us is that we have a God who is intimate and everywhere and in all things and people shaping us and shaping our world.
Henri Nouwen, the catholic philosopher, theologian, writer in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son (which I’d highly recommend reading) has some great commentary on this story.
There is a pattern in this passage of loss, recovery, restoration, and celebration.
- The loss of relationship with self, others, God.
- The recovery of one’s senses, a movement towards action in one’s life.
- The restoration of relationship with self, others, God.
- Which leads to the celebration of God with one’s self, other, and God recognition…a celebration of embrace and unrestrained love.
Nouwen goes on to say:
“Each time we touch the sacred emptiness of non-demanding love, heaven and earth tremble and there is great ‘rejoicing among the angels of God.’ it is the joy for the returning sons and daughters. It is the joy of spiritual parenthood.”
We are all invited to be gradually transformed by God’s love from being the younger and older sons, wherever we find ourselves, into the compassionate parent (as Nouwen says) and to live lives filled with gratitude, celebration, and not resentment.
In this process, in our life stories, may we be changed by transformational relationship in a world that often only understands transactional relationships.
May we remember that Jesus shows us through his life and actions that all are embraced by God! This is Good news! Welcome the embrace!