The Parable of the Forgiving Father

“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.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Challenged to Love

“Challenged to Love”

Luke 2:15-20 (2:19) – December 19, 2021

            The coming birth of a baby today is surely a time for rejoicing! In this country today we have such events as baby showers, regular prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and lots of other preparations made as the time for the birth gets closer and closer.

            But, what about in centuries past? How would the typical baby’s parents and family prepare for the birth of a baby? Was the baby still expected and waited for with love? What about after the baby arrived? Would uncertain and even dangerous situations cause that love from the parents and family to cool, dry up and perhaps even go away?

This Baby I have in mind was not your usual baby. No, this Baby was special. In fact, super-special. This Baby’s parents Mary and Joseph were living in an uncertain time, too. It’s not only us, today, with the uncertain health situations around the country, extreme weather, financial worries of all kinds, close friends or relatives in a jam, and much more.

Mary and Joseph’s country was under military occupation. I suspect the distance Joseph had to travel was only made more complicated by the question marks caused by the season of the year, the weather, and by the possible hassle caused by meeting Roman soldiers on the road.

A far cry from the love expressed by many people today, especially when a baby is born.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the Sunday where we focus on Love. It is such a challenge to highlight love, when we are also dealing with such uncertainty. Uncertainty in our work lives, in our personal lives, and in our corporate lives, as a congregation, a family, and in your friend groups. The minute our Savior, Christ the Lord is born, in that same uncertain minute the rug seems to be pulled out from under everyone’s feet.

How can we focus on love at an uncertain time like this?

I appreciate different people and their different blog posts and articles incorporating the coming Christ child in Bethlehem. One of the readings most true to my heart this year: “It is easy to feel disappointed when things don’t happen the way you have planned them. You can get lost in your expectations, feel frustrated, and even close your heart to what is happening unexpectedly, instead of noticing the wonderful experiences around you.” [1]

What unexpected and wonderful things were happening in Bethlehem, for sure!

But, have you ever felt that so much has gone wrong, so many things have misfired or gotten off to a rotten start that nothing that’s positive could ever happen again? It’s true that the world at the end of 2021 has had terrible, awful and downright frightening things happen for so many months. This uncertainty can manifest itself into being so anxious and unwelcoming to the Christmas angels with their “good news of great joy.” Where is love when we need it most?

Sometimes things just don’t go the way we planned. Sometimes some of us feel nervous, afraid, or even disgruntled most of the time! And then, what happens to our hearts? Are our hearts open to new things, or fresh experiences, or unexpected opportunities? Chances are, no.

“Sometimes people lock their hearts because they think it will protect them. They lock out strangers who might become friends; they lock out different places that might become places where they belong. The problem with locking your heart is that it doesn’t actually protect you; it keeps out all the love you didn’t think to imagine.” [2]

            In such an uncertain time as December 2021, many people have extra armor protecting their insides, guarding against fear and hurt, almost like pulling up the covers over our heads and wishing that all of this uproar and sadness and anxiety gripping our insides would just go away. But – God has sent love into the world. God’s love, lovely love.

            Even though her world was uncertain, Mary the mother of the infant Jesus had a whole succession of wondrous events happen to her. The coming of the angel Gabriel, confirmation of the angel’s message to her fiancé Joseph. The welcome by Elizabeth followed by Mary singing the Magnificat. The journey to Bethlehem followed by a wondrous birth. And, to cap it off, a group of dusty, dirty shepherds trooping in to see her newborn Baby with an equally wondrous story to tell. More angels! More glory! More opportunities for God to be praised!

            This world certainly was weary then, and it certainly continues to be weary – and fearful and anxious – today. Nevertheless, Dr. Luke says that Mary treasured up all these things in her heart. Pondered, meditated on and considered all of these wondrous, miraculous happenings. God’s Love had indeed broken into this weary world.

            My friend Rev. April Fiet ponders these things, too, as we all celebrate the incarnate Son of God born as the infant Jesus. “The first Christmas, Love came down and got its hands dirty. Love grew and experienced pain, was overlooked, rejected, and mocked. Love embraced others with otherworldly love and was scorned for loving the wrong people. Love didn’t just take on flesh in the holiest of senses; Love took on the struggle of being human. Love encountered us, looked us in the eyes and said, “Me, too.” [3]

            Christina Rossetti wrote a poem in the 1800’s, set to music and found in many hymnals today. “Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine.”  Praise God, we, too, can stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. We, too can welcome this lovely, Godly Love that has come into this uncertain, weary world, today.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] Illustrated Ministry – Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-4-love-in-the-struggle?fbclid=IwAR2yzfOdmvPxceuJF0JvE01JKHOrtrTeKkGvUq2BRr1peCcvBDjXeLmOtNM