“The Parable of the Forgiving Father”
Luke 15:11-32 (15:21) – March 27, 2022
This week we come to a story from Jesus that is beloved by many. One of the best known of the parables, one that resonates with the heart and soul of many. It’s the story of two brothers and a father, the story of discontent and disgruntlement, the story of wandering in a far country, the story of return, and most of all, the story of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.
Eileen began this parable with the first half of the Scripture reading this morning. We set the stage with the Rabbi Jesus teaching amongst a large crowd. The tax collectors and sinners crowded close to hear Him, but some prim and proper townsfolk objected. (Objected both to the “dregs of society” and to the Rabbi Jesus welcoming and teaching them.)
When prim and proper folk gripe and complain about you or your friends showing a loving, caring welcome to others, what is your response? We know what Jesus’ response was: this parable of two brothers and a father.
We know what happened. The younger brother became discontented with his lot, his place in life and in the family. I am not sure whether you know, but upon their father’s death, the older son would receive twice as much as the younger son. That was the culture and custom of the Jewish tradition at that time. The younger son would only receive one third of the father’s assets – after the father died. But – the father in this parable was still alive, and well, and able to walk, talk and reason.
Can you believe the audacity of this son, asking right now for what he would receive after his father’s death…before the death actually happened? This was unheard of! What kind of disrespect was this? The height of disrespect from this discontented, disgruntled son!
One title this parable could have is “The Story of the Lost Son,” because the younger brother goes to a far country, spends all his money in riotous, profligate living, eventually doesn’t have a penny to his name, and is forced to herd pigs for a farmer just to scrape by and earn a pittance. After feeling sorry for himself, the younger brother finally wakes up.
Let’s hear what Dr. Luke says about this younger brother: “17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.”
Did you hear? This son came to his senses! He realized how good he had it in his father’s house! At least this younger brother had the sense to return to his father.
Meanwhile, we have the older brother, back at home. This brother is doing his duty, working in the fields, obedient to his father’s wishes. Except, what was his attitude? Was he sour? Resentful? Feeling locked in and in a boxed-in place? Could this parable featuring the older brother also be called “the Story of the Lost Son?” Can we see some discontent and disgruntlement coming from the older son?
Let’s move to the father, and hear the next part of the story. ““But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Hold it! Now we are going to get further information about the discontented older brother. On the surface, he’s the perfect son. Always obedient, always compliant. Except, listen to this: “25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
We focus again on the father. If we had a title of this parable from the father’s point of view, it could very well be “The Story of the Forgiving Father.” Yes, he freely forgave the younger son for his extreme disrespect, for spending all his father’s hard-earned money, and for crawling back home in such a disreputable condition. Plus, the father was loving and welcoming to his older son, the one who seemed to be permanently disgruntled, with a huge chip on his shoulder.
Sometimes, this totally loving, caring, welcoming father seems like a dream, a fantasy, something we could only hope for and never see in real life. Can anyone possibly be that fantastic and marvelous parent to their children? Or, am I – are we – just too jaded and cynical? Has life just beaten us down too much?
I have news for all of us. With this parable, Jesus lifts up the father as an example, as an image of God our Heavenly Parent. Jesus wants us to see how much God loves each one of us, and how willing our loving, caring God is to welcome us home. Even going so far as to run down the road to embrace us when we return in penitence and tears, or when we stay at home doing our duty in self-righteous disgruntlement and discontent.
Yes, God forgives! And yes, we are to do the same. As the petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We need to continue to strive to forgive others, exactly in the same way and with the same loving, forgiving heart that God our Heavenly Parent had. Remember, the father ran down the road to forgive the prodigal – God offers forgiveness to both prodigal sons, all wayward children, no matter what.
Remember, what a loving, caring God we have. Always loving, caring and welcoming toward each one of us. Amen.