The Prodigal Father

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Dear sons of the Father: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are accustomed to calling the parable Jesus told in today’s Gospel lesson the parable of the prodigal son. To be prodigal means to be spending resources freely and recklessly; to be wastefully extravagant. This certainly fits the parable, even if the word itself doesn’t appear in the parable.

The son is wasteful. He cannot wait for his father to be dead. He wants his inheritance immediately. The father divides the estate no matter how long it had been in the family. The son cannot take the estate with him as it is, so he must have sold it off. He sold his share of the farm and land, buildings and cattle so that he would have cash to burn. No sooner had he received his share of the family estate than he sold it to strangers. The text says he then went to a far country and there squandered his property in reckless living. He spent everything. He squandered what generations had worked to build. Yes, the son is wasteful. He is a prodigal son.

But who else is prodigal? Who else is wastefully extravagant and gives resources freely and recklessly? The father.

The father didn’t have to divide and give away his estate while he was still living, but he gave it away freely. That is rather extravagant. And when the prodigal son returns home thinking that he can earn back what he has squandered the father won’t even hear him out. The father doesn’t even want to hear the son say that he will work as a servant. The father runs out when the son is still far off which means that he was watching and waiting for the son to return. He gives the wasteful son his best robe. Never mind that the son must have stunk like the pigs he was feeding, the father just threw his best robe on him. That sounds pretty wasteful, too.

Then the father gives the wasteful son the ring that gives him status and authority over the father’s estate. The son has just wasted half of the father’s estate and now the father gives him authority over the remaining half. Talk about giving freely and recklessly. Talk about being wastefully extravagant. Talk about being prodigal.

But the father’s not done yet. The one fattened calf that was being saved for a special occasion was slaughtered and the father throws a party for the prodigal son. He hired musicians and dancers and threw a great banquet. He must have invited lots of people to celebrate with him since they had a whole fattened calf on which to feast and the older son could hear the music and the dancing while he was still out in the field.

And then finally, the father speaks to his older son saying, “All that is mine is yours.” So the father has nothing left. He’s given everything away. So again, who is the real prodigal in the story? Who is the one who gives everything away freely and recklessly?

This is indeed God, our heavenly Father. He is wastefully extravagant in His gifts to us, giving freely and recklessly. He richly blesses us with so many earthly goods even though we have been wasteful with what He has given us. When we think in our sin that somehow we will work like a servant and make back what we have wasted, God will hear none of it. He just runs out to us with His arms wide open, calling us His sons. He covers us in His best robe – the waters of Holy Baptism – that covers all of our filthy pig-smelling sins. He does more than just kill a fattened calf for us. He killed His only Son for us, and He prepares a feast for us of His Son’s body and blood. He gives us the inheritance of eternal life.

God our Father is so generous towards us, that it cannot be called anything except prodigal. He freely and recklessly gives and gives and gives. He knows that we cannot earn any of what He gives to us. He knows that we’ve been prodigal sons and have sinned against Him. He knows that we have been wasteful with what He had given to us. He knows that we have taken His generous mercy for granted.

It’s no wonder that the older son is upset with the father. We get it. We’d be upset too if our brother had just squandered half of the family estate and had returned only to be received like a king with a banquet and given the father’s bank cards and credit cards.

Or let’s apply it to the church. How do you feel if a member has taken the gifts of God for granted and never attends church, or only attends on Christmas or Easter? Should they really be welcomed back with open arms? You’ve stayed in the church, attending faithfully. You’ve served on boards and committees. You’ve contributed offerings through thick and thin to keep the gifts of God flowing here, and some prodigal just shows up when he wishes and benefits from your generosity. To top it off, what if they’ve dishonoured the Father and fallen into sinful living? Surely they don’t deserve a party to be thrown for them, but you do.

When we look at things this way, it is not with the straying member we have a problem, but with God. We think it is God who is not being fair. We see that God is being prodigal in giving grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

This is what the older brother in the parable thought as well. He tells his father that he is the one who has been slaving for the father for years. He’s the one who hasn’t been wasteful and reckless with the father’s property. He’s the one who hasn’t wandered away from the father. Yet his father hadn’t thrown him a party. He never got to wear the best robe or had the fattened calf killed for him. But now the prodigal son returns and the prodigal father gives him everything.

What the older son doesn’t realize is he is just as guilty of sinning against his father as the younger son. The older son had also taken his share of the inheritance even though the father was still alive. His idea of a good time may not have been to run away from his father to a far country to party, but he did want to have a party with his friends but without his father. And just as the prodigal son thought he could earn back what he had squandered, the older son thought he had earned everything that he had been given.

The truth is the two sons were equally guilty of sinning against their father, and the father had been equally prodigal towards both sons. It is completely untrue that the father had never given the older son anything. The father himself says, “All that is mine is yours.”

The same is true for us. We are all fallen sinners. We have all equally broken the Law of God. And God generously pours out His forgiveness to us equally. He is prodigal in the way He just continues to forgive us our sins even though we turn around and fall into sin again. He is wastefully extravagant in giving us His Word even when our minds wander from listening to it. He freely and recklessly gives us forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper even when we think we don’t really need it all that often. He is over abundantly giving and giving and giving.

Yes, it is true that we can wander away from that forgiveness like the prodigal son. It is true that we can refuse that forgiveness because we won’t go into the Father’s house because those we consider worse sinners are receiving so freely from God. But God pleads with you saying, “All that is mine is yours. Come into my house and receive my prodigal forgiveness freely and over abundantly given to you.”

Jesus ends the parable without telling us if the older brother went into the house or not. Does the older brother go into the house to receive the father’s gifts and joys? How about you? Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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