Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent


Fourth Sunday in Lent (C)
March 10, 2013
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

            The word “prodigal” means wasteful or reckless.  To be sure, the son in our text was prodigal, squandering his relationship with his father and his brother, with the village, and finally squandering the property he had demanded of his father “in reckless living” (Luke 15:13; ESV).  Thus we often call this parable “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  But perhaps this parable would more appropriately be entitled, “The Prodigal Father.”  Because as wasteful and reckless as the son is in our text, the father, in his great love for the son, is wasteful and reckless in mercy.  As it turns out, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to prodigality.  Understand just how prodigal the father is in this text: The son comes demanding his share of the family property.  He wants it, and he wants it now.  It is as if he said to his father, “I wish you were dead!”  And what does the father do?  He gives it to him!  Wasteful.  Prodigal.  He recklessly gives what would traditionally amount to roughly a third of his possessions and income to this no-good ingrate of a son.  And then what does he do?  While his son is off in a far country, spending everything it took the father a lifetime to earn, the father is sitting by the window, staring off into the distance, watching, waiting, hoping for his rebellious son to return.  What a waste of time!  Who cares if the worthless son comes back?!  Well, the father cares.  And his care consumes him.  He waits and he prays.  And then one day, far off in the distance, he sees a figure approaching the village.  Could it be?  No way.  Wait a minute… It is!  It is the son!  The son, having experienced a severe famine and utter poverty, having been reduced to feeding pigs… imagine, a good Jewish boy feeding unclean pigs!  Working for Godless Gentiles!... the boy, so hungry he longed to eat the pods he was feeding those pigs, came to his senses.  My father’s hired hands have plenty to eat.  I know I can’t return to him as a son.  I’ve already broken that relationship.  But I’ll ask him for a job.  I’ll earn my way back to my father.  I’ll say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants” (vv. 18-19).  So, with this resolve, he marches home.  And what does the father do?  Seeing his son a long way off, he hikes up his robes and runs!  Now, nobody of the father’s standing in the community runs.  Not for any reason.  There are no runners in the ancient Middle East.  It’s undignified.  In fact, it’s embarrassing.  Because lifting your robe up above your knees was about as immodest as showing your underpants would be today (well, maybe more so… we’ve really lost all sense of modesty in our culture.  Imagine, being embarrassed if someone saw your knees!).  The father hikes up his skirt and runs toward the son.  It’s quite a spectacle in the village.  The villagers follow the father.  What’s going on?  And then, they too, see the son.  According to custom, they should spit on the rebellious boy and turn their backs.  He brought dishonor to his father and to his village.  But here the father is, prodigally welcoming his son home.  He embraces and kisses the son.  “Welcome home, my son.”  The son begins to make his speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  But that’s all he can get out.  No talk of being a hired servant.  The prodigal father commands his servants to clothe the son in the best robe, to put the family ring on his hand (the signet ring, the ring that bears the authority of the father), to put shoes on the son’s feet (servants don’t usually wear shoes), and to kill the fattened calf for a celebration.  For there has been a death and a resurrection: “this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (v. 24).
            This is the celebration your Father in heaven threw when you were baptized.  For you were dead in your trespasses and sins, but your God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, raised you out of death in the waters of Baptism to new and eternal life in Him.  You were lost, just like the lost sheep and the lost coin in the parables Jesus also tells in this chapter (Luke 15:3-10), just like the son in our text.  But God found you.  He sought you out by His Spirit.  He took hold of you by His Word.  He washed you with His Bath and clothed you with the righteous robe of the Lord Jesus in Holy Baptism.  And He throws a prodigal celebration, a Feast, the Feast of Jesus’ body and blood, to whom He invites sinners like you.  In fact, He throws the Feast in your honor, and for your good, for your forgiveness, for your restoration to the Family of God that is the Holy Christian Church. 
            Maybe we should call this parable “The Prodigal God.”  There you are, sitting in the far off country of your unbelief, the pigsty of your sin, poor, hungry, miserable, thinking you can earn God’s favor by your works… “Treat me as one of your hired servants.”  And all the while, God is longing for your return to Him, not as a servant, but as a son.  And He sends His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to make it happen, in His suffering and death on the cross.  “I wish you were dead,” you say to God, when you demand the property of His blessings before the time.  So He gives it to you.  He dies, on the cross, for your sins.  It’s all so prodigal.  And by that death He forgives your sins.  He does His own death and resurrection, so that you, who are dead, can be raised.  He embraces you and kisses you and calls you a son.  No room for hired servants in God’s Kingdom.  Only sons and daughters.  Here it is all by grace in the prodigal extravagance of our God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21), a prodigal exchange, indeed. 
            Of course, there is another son, isn’t there?  The older son, the son who stayed with his father.  He comes in from the field and hears the music and the noise of the celebration.  He learns from a servant that his sinful brother has returned and that the father has received him back with open arms.  He should rejoice.  But instead he throws a tantrum.  He refuses to go in.  How could the father do this thing, welcome this sinner back as a full-fledged son, sins forgiven?  The father, ever the prodigal, leaves the festivities to entreat his son: Come, celebrate!  (B)ut he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command’” (by the way… really?  Never?  What child can say that?), “‘yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes’” (another aside… who said he devoured the property with prostitutes?  Maybe, maybe not… the text just says he squandered it in “reckless living.”  The older son is breaking the 8th Commandment against his brother here)… “‘when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:29-30).  But the father entreats his son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v. 31).  Notice the double blessing: Just being with the father is reward enough, but on top of it, the father shares everything with this, his older son.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found” (v. 32).  And then the story ends without an ending.  What does the older brother do?  We don’t know.  The open-ending is intentional.  This story was directed at the Pharisees, who were angry with Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them.  They are the older son.  What will they do?  Will they join the celebration over the repentant sinners, or will they sulk off and refuse to enter the joy of their God?  Will they self-righteously trust in their own obedience to the Father’s commands, or will they recognize their own transgressions and rejoice that they, too, are welcome in the Father’s house, and join their fellow forgiven sinners at the joyous Feast?  What about you?  Does it ever bother you that known sinners march right up to the altar and Feast on the body and blood of Jesus?  If so, repent.  You see, whichever brother you are, you, too, are here by grace.  You, too, are a sinner received by the Lord Jesus and welcome at His Table, received by the Father Himself as a dear child of God, baptized into Christ.
            From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16), that is, from a fleshly perspective, according to human standards.  Rather, we regard them as forgiven sinners, precious children of God for whom Christ died.  And we regard ourselves as such, also.  Such is the prodigal love of God for us.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (vv. 17-18).  Thus having been reconciled to Him, we commence with the celebratory Feast.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

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