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 06, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent (C)

March 6, 2016
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

            Two groups of people, two different kinds of hearers with two dramatically different reactions, serve as the original audience for this parable.  On the one hand, there are “the tax collectors and sinners” who are “drawing near to hear” Jesus (Luke 15:1; ESV).  On the other hand, there are “the Pharisees and scribes,” the religious elite, who grumble precisely because Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2).  Now, there is great irony at play within these two groups.  The despised sinners, rejected by polite society and abandoned to hell by respectable religious people, these are the ones who come to Jesus and hang on every Word of His preaching.  The religious leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, the “good Christian folk” who demand the respect of everyone, these refuse to give Jesus the time of day.  They will not hear His preaching.  They will not receive Him as a colleague, much less their Messiah and Lord.  These pious leaders of Israel reject Jesus.  And they reject Him for doing the very thing He was sent by the Father to do.  They reject Him for receiving sinners and eating with them. 
            So our Lord tells a parable.  Two sons, two dramatically different relationships with their father… or, maybe not so different, as we’ll see.  On the one hand, there is the younger son.  He wants his inheritance, and he wants it now.  For this son to demand his inheritance from the father is to tell his father he wishes he would hurry up and die.  Imagine the hurt of the father, the ache for this son who has turned against him and wishes him dead.  And the amazing thing is, he gives the rascal what he wants.  He divides up the inheritance.  And notice here, too, the older son also benefits from the younger son’s audacity.  The older son also gets his share.  The younger son gathers together all he has, his newfound fortune, and journeys into a far country, squandering his property in reckless living.  We can only imagine what that entails.  On the other hand, there is this older son.  He stays with his father.  But remember, lest you think this older son the responsible, selfless hero, he has received his inheritance, too.  Everything that the younger son did not take.  So, good for him that he stays and takes care of his own property.  Good for him that he does not squander it in reckless living.  How selfless is it, though, to stay and take care of your own interests?  Can you really claim that this makes you righteous?
            Now consider, in contrast to the two sons, the one father and his unimaginable compassion.  To divide the inheritance in the first place is essentially to declare himself dead for the sake of his sons.  This brings new meaning to the idea of loving your children to death.  But the father does any number of unbelievable things in the parable.  This parable is most often called “The Prodigal Son,” but perhaps it should be called “The Prodigal Father.”  Prodigal simply means reckless and wasteful.  And this is as good a description of the father’s love as it is of the son’s behavior.  Notice where the father is while his younger son is away in a far country.  He is every day watching and waiting, praying and worrying, straining his eyes down the long road into town, hoping against all hope that his wandering son will come home again… you know, the son that wished him dead.  And one day he sees, a long way off, a lone, gaunt figure stumbling down the road.  And he knows.  It is the son.  And here is where the father’s love makes him do the most ridiculous, prodigal things.  In his “compassion,” (the Greek word here basically means “feeling it in his bowels”) he hikes up his robes and runs.  Now, in our culture, some people run for fun, as silly as that is.  Not so in the ancient world.  No self-respecting man, much less of pillar of the community like this father, would run.  That would be demeaning.  To hike up your robes is like showing off your underwear.  It is embarrassing.  It is shameful.  But love knows no shame.  The father runs to the rebellious son, and before a word can be spoken, he embraces him and kisses him, a reckless show of love and affection, especially for a son who has disowned his father.  The son, remember, had resolved to work his way into the father’s house as a servant.  When he was hungry, tending pigs (unclean animals good Jewish boys should avoid!), longing to eat their slop, he thought maybe he could go home and work his sin off at the farm.  He even has a speech prepared.  And he gets part of the way through it when he meets his father.  He confesses his sin.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  But the father cuts him off.  There will be no promises of working off sin, as if you can work off the sin of wishing your father dead.  Here in the father’s house, there will only be forgiveness, restoration, and joy.  Put the best robe on him.  Put a ring on his finger.  Put shoes on his feast.  And kill the fatted calf.  Let’s eat and celebrate.  For there has been a death and resurrection.  This son was lost, but now he is found. 
            The older son was out in the fields while all this was taking place.  He hears the music and dancing.  A servant fills him in on the details.  And he is angry.  Not that his brother is back.  Perhaps not even that his father has been merciful.  But a party?  Really?  For this wretch?  Full restoration to his place in the family?  And the fatted calf… There are only two reasons you would slaughter the fatted calf: If the King is coming, or if the older son is getting married.  The older son knows he’s not getting married, and as far as he knows, the King has not come for a visit.  But this worthless rebel of a younger son has come home, and the father treats him like royalty.  Forget it.  I’m not going in.  Well, here is more reckless, prodigal love on the part of the father.  He goes out to his son.  Never would this happen.  When your son is being a snot, you don’t cater to his tantrum, especially not in the ancient world.  But the father goes out to him, and he begs.  Come in.  Celebrate.  All that is mine is yours.  This feast is for you, too.  And your brother has been restored.  It is a time for joy. 
            So, two sons, one father, one unimaginable, reckless, prodigal compassion for his rebellious sons.  The father, of course, is God.  More specifically, he is Jesus.  And the prodigal son is the tax collectors and sinners Jesus receives and with whom he eats.  The older son is the Pharisees and scribes.  In His prodigal love, Jesus gives Himself into death for both groups, for the forgiveness of their rebellion, and that they might have the inheritance of the Kingdom.  How Jesus loves sinners who disown Him and abuse His gifts.  He longs to receive them back into His embrace and claim them as His own.  He longs to put the best robe on them, the robe of Holy Baptism; the ring of faith to mark them members of His holy Bride, the Church; and as shoes for their feet putting on the readiness of the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).  And how Jesus loves sinners who don’t know they are sinners; who think they are faithful, pious, good Christian folk; who in their self-righteousness fail to recognize that they need the same prodigal grace and love of Jesus that the “really bad” sinners need.  He longs to bring both into the Feast, where He is both Host and Meal.  Jesus is the King who comes and the elder Son who has arrived for His wedding.  And He is the Fatted Calf who is slaughtered and served on the altar for the celebration.  And He wants everyone to come in and sing and dance and partake and rejoice.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, rebellious sons, and Pharisees.  He wants them all.  He died for them all.  He lives for them all.  The bowels of His prodigal love ache for all.  He aches, He suffers, He longs for you.
            Yes, the parable, finally, is about you.  And about Jesus’ prodigal love for you.  The cross it the ultimate prodigal act of love that makes you His own.  He died to give you the inheritance, which is His Kingdom and Salvation.  Are you the younger son, who has wasted this inheritance in reckless living?  Are you a sinner, and you know it?  You cannot work your way into God’s favor.  Nothing you do can restore you to His House.  But thanks be to God, you don’t have to work your way out of the mess, nor are you rejected.  Jesus hikes up His skirts and runs to you to receive you back to Himself and wrap you back in your baptismal robes.  On the other hand, are you the older son who has always come to Church, Sunday after Sunday, doing what is expected of you, dressing, speaking, and voting the right way, giving your offering, and sometimes having a hard time recognizing your own sin in comparison with the prodigal?  Are you offended that you’re in the company of tax collectors and prostitutes and really bad sinners?  Repent.  And rejoice.  Jesus comes out to you in your self-righteous rebellion and He begs.  He sends his servants, the Christian pastors, to bid you come to the Feast.  And He Himself comes out to you.  All that He has is yours.  Come into the Feast.  Eat with the sinners.  Be the sinner that you are, and so be forgiven.  Come, sing and dance and eat.

            For this is the place of death and resurrection.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And you are baptized into Christ.  Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, in Christ, you are no longer dead, but alive.  You are no longer lost, but found.  And the angels in heaven rejoice.  And we on earth rejoice as the Lord gathers us sinners around the Fatted Calf, the Body and Blood of the Lord, given and shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  The Father pours out His compassion on you.  The Son has been slaughtered, that you may eat and celebrate and be fully restored.  The Spirit calls you to come and eat, for the Feast is now ready.  Jesus sinners doth receive.  There is a place at His Table for you.  The Lord receives you and eats with you and feeds you with Himself.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

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