Lectionary: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Our next door neighbours have three boys. We can’t seem to remember their names so we have chosen our own names for them like any responsible neighbour would do. They are, in reverse order of age: youngest son, middle son, and the good son. Clever, eh?
The youngest one is loud and busy, the middle son is quiet and oblivious but oldest son is really, truly the good one. He heads out the front door for school at 7:02 each morning; he waits by the road each afternoon to meet youngest son at the school bus; he watches and corrals the younger ones when they’re playing outside; he waters the lawn, puts out the recycling and is generally reliable and … well, good.
The Gospel reading today from Luke is the classic story of the Prodigal Son. I strongly suggest reading and digesting it for yourself but it is primarily three characters: loving father, restless young son, good older son.
The young son asks for his half of the inheritance from his living father (do the math, that leaves the other half for dad and older son) then goes on a money-spending binge in another country. It’s not long until he has nothing and remembers that life was pretty good back at home so he returns, hoping to simply have a place to live.
Well, dad is already watching and waiting and runs to embrace youngest son when he sees him, then throws a massive party to welcome him home. But notice the sourness of the the ‘good son’; he doesn’t like this at all because it is unfair and ignores his hard work and loyalty and goodness.
The reading below begins with the response of the older son then skips to something Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15, NLT)
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5, NLT)
I’ve studied the Prodigal many times and it is still probably my favourite parable. I can find myself in any of those roles. Ultimately it allows me the security of knowing that I am loved, even when I give space to my insecurities or selfish interests.
In this culture we really don’t have a sense of how counter-cultural and upsetting this entire story would have been for the original listeners but it would have shocked and angered them and become a talking point. Nothing about what the young son did would have been acceptable and everything about what the older son did would have been wonderful.
Yet this and the parables just before it say something about how our Heavenly Father thinks of us: we are each loved with passionate and everlasting rights before God. But non-exclusive rights.
I am no more or less important to God than you are. You are no more or less important than me, the Pope, Lady Gaga or the good son next door.
Jealousy is not an uncommon thing. Even mature adults – even mature Christian adults – can feel jealousy or its first cousin self-righteousness. Another relative is insecurity. They are all rooted in an exaggerated sense of worth or an exaggerated sense of un-worth. Dangerous idols, they are.
The Prodigal reminds us first about how much we are loved, then we are reminded that goodness and rightness don’t define our worth. We are loved equally and with non-exclusive rights simply because our Father is love.
The second above reading reminds us of where we go from there. ‘So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.’ Wow. Once we grasp and internalize how passionate God’s love is for all, then we naturally become ambassadors, priests, administrators of His generosity. Our badness is erased by God’s acceptance and so we pass the message on to those who need to hear and feel it.
We, who are loved by God, are not to see others through the same lens as the world sees them. We are not to be elevated or preachy like the woman in my last post, overtly praying down on those around her. We are not to see enemies, opponents, sinners or those not like us but instead we are to see them through God’s generous, loving eyes.
We don’t have exclusive rights to God’s goodness, we are distributors of it.
Who in your circle needs to be accepted and loved?