Sermon Lent 4
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus was being criticized about the kind of people he was hanging out with. He answered his critics by telling a parable, a story. He often told parables to help people understand things they wouldn’t get, if he just answered them directly.
This is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. It is also the longest. It is commonly known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It has also been called the “Parable of the Two Lost Sons” or the “Parable of the Prodigal Father” because the word prodigal actually refers to someone who gives money away without even thinking about it, someone either outrageously generous, or outrageously foolish.
There are three main characters in the story. At different times in our lives we might find ourselves identifying with one of them more than another.
I would like to retell the story today for you from the perspective of the one I identify with most often, the elder brother. I am going to change the story a bit so that there are two sisters instead of two brothers, but that won’t matter. I have given them Bible names: the elder is Leah, the younger is Rachel.
I am Leah and I have a story to tell. You will never believe what my little sister Rachel did today! She has always been the trouble maker. She never wanted to be part of this family in the first place. She always wanted to be with her friends instead of her family. I cannot tell you how many times that girl asked me to cover for her when she wanted to sneak out. I wouldn’t do it though. I told her I would tell Mom and Dad, too.
Today was the absolute worst. She got so bold she went to Dad and said she wanted her inheritance now. She wants to see the world. She basically told him he was dead to her. The rest of us may as well be dead, too, for all she cares.
Dad is heartbroken. But he is going to do it. He is selling off part of the farm and giving her the money. I cannot believe he would do something like that.
But he does it and off she goes.
Well, good riddance, I say. It is too bad the farm is smaller, but things sure are quieter around here without Rachel. Things are running smoothly without her. She was such a drama queen.
My parents are depressed though. They don’t talk much to me about it. They try to keep up appearances. It is certainly embarrassing for them every time they go into town and someone asks about Rachel.
It has been months now. No one really knows where she is. No letters, not even a card. By now most people around here know what happened. They don’t know what to say when they see my folks, so they just talk about the weather a lot.
Or they avoid them so they won’t have to figure out what to say. What would you say, anyway? Sorry your daughter ran off with her inheritance and you don’t know where she is?
This is unbelievable. My sister really is a drama queen! And today I think she gets it from Dad! Who would have guessed he would behave like that? Well, I am getting ahead of myself. I will start with what I heard from one of Dad’s workers because I wasn’t there.
It seems it didn’t take Rachel long to blow through all that money. The land itself would have been enough to support her and a family for the rest of her life, but no, she had to have it and spend it all. She traveled all over the place, drinking, and partying, until the money ran out.
Then of course, she had to get a job. That was about the time the economy went bad and there weren’t any good jobs available, especially for a foreigner. So she took the kind of job that nice girls, especially of our religion, wouldn’t even consider, if you know what I mean. But the man she worked for didn’t even give her enough to eat. She really does look thin now, and not in a good way.
So she decides her next move is to come back here and ask Dad for a job. She figured at least there is always plenty to eat here. After the way she treated him, she has the nerve to ask him for a job, unbelievable.
But as I said, she gets the drama queen thing from Dad. Because his behavior was nothing short of bizarre. I think he has totally gone off the deep end since she left, because when he saw her coming down the road, he took off running to meet her.
It was like she came back from the dead or something. He hugs her and kisses her before she even gets out her speech where she sort of apologizes and asks him for a job.
It gets worse. He gives her new clothes, new shoes, and a ring. Then he tells one of his workers to slaughter the best calf. He tells another one to fire up the barbecue pit and another one to invite the whole town to the party.
Here is where I came in from work. I can hear the loud music. I can smell the barbecue. I have been working all day. Not just all day today either, but the whole time she was gone, and for years before that. I was working when she was too young to work. I was working when she was old enough to work, but she was goofing off.
Did Dad ever tell me to invite my friends over, even for a little dinner party? No, never. Why should I even go to her welcome home party?
Dad came out to talk to me. I told him how angry I was. I told him I was appalled about the whole situation. He explained that they thought she was dead, but now she is alive. She was lost, but now she is found. He said they just had to celebrate.
He said I would always be his beloved daughter. I would always be with him. Everything he had would be mine.
Jesus ends the story here with the father talking to the elder son.
What happens in the story is that all of the main characters died in their own way. The father is dead because the younger son asked for the inheritance. The younger son dies in the far country. He came home dead and his father raises him.
The elder son is dead because he has emotionally left the family and is in his own kind of hell. The father goes out into the courtyard to see him, to meet him in hell.
The parable ends with a freeze frame. If this were a movie, the sound would stop and you would maybe see the servants serving the wine, inside at the party, but the father and the elder son would be left standing frozen on the courtyard.
When a story stays like this for 2000 years, and never ends, you can extend it indefinitely. Jesus still comes to meet all those who are in their own kind of hell. He offers to raise them from the dead.
He invites them to join the party, come in and kiss their brother or sister, have a drink, and eat some barbecue. He stays with them until they accept the invitation. Amen.