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Posts Tagged "11-32"

That's Not Fair!

March 31, 2019
By Rev. David French

The Prodigal Son is one of the few parables easily understood by everyone who hears it, or is it? I mean, what if you’ve got the perspective or the casting all wrong? What if you thought, for example, that Jesus was speaking to the tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to Him instead of the scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling against Him? That’s a big change of perspective, to be sure, but still no need to change our self-identification with the prodigal son. After all, we can all relate to his time of sinful exploits and wayward days. We’ve all been there and done that, to one degree or another. Besides, we can’t really be the scribes and the Pharisees because we, male or female, through our baptisms, have been mercifully and graciously restored to sonship just like the prodigal son. We might be tempted to think this story is about us, not to us! But, you know you’ve seen the older brother in yourself a time or two as well. So, how well do we really know this parable?

We all know how the Father behaved when His wayward son returned home. Dad runs out to meet him and embraces his wayward child treating him like royalty. He gives him the finest robe to wear. He puts a ring on his finger. He kills the fatted calf and throws a huge party. And all this because of love, or as we read, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

For the older brother, that was the last straw. You see, in that culture the fatted calf was only butchered for one of two reasons: 1) The king was coming to visit, or 2) The eldest son was getting married. No doubt he’s confused because he would have known if the king was coming, and he knows he’s not getting married. Then he gets the “good news.” “Your brother has returned home, and your Father has killed the fatted calf to celebrate, for he has been received back home safe and sound.”

So, the older son lets dad have it with both barrels. “Look at all that I’ve done for you over all these years. Look at how good I’ve been. I’ve never disobeyed you, and yet you’ve never even given me even a little goat so that my friends and I could celebrate. I mean, this son of yours comes home after wasting all your hard-earned money on prostitutes and you treat him like royalty!”

And there it is, the heart of his complaint: Dad, that’s not fair! I do this, that, and the other thing, and I don’t get the honor I think I deserve, and then you throw a party for one who certainly doesn’t deserve it! You honor the dishonorable! You treat the disgraceful like royalty!”

That’s why Jesus taught this parable specifically to the scribes and Pharisees. They, like the older brother, didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the Father’s mercy and love brought about by repentance and faith in God’s Promise. These teachers and experts in the Law, they talked a good game and put on a good show, but when it came down to it, their lives showed that they believed their works and their personal righteousness made them more deserving, more entitled to God’s gifts than others.

My friends, We’ve all been there—every one of us. We’ve all looked down our noses at those who don’t measure up to our standards, who don’t in our minds shine as brightly as we do. We’ve all had the thought, “I do more whatever than whoever.” We’ve all had the thought that God is surly more pleased with the doers than the don’t doers!” And while not always, that thought happens most when difficult moments come into our lives.

Now, of course we all know that works count for nothing. God provides you daily bread, not based on a system of merits for deeds, but based solely on His divine Fatherly goodness and love. And certainly, more important than daily bread and the needs of our earthly life, your salvation is not based on your deeds or misdeeds. You are saved by God’s grace alone; grace which He freely lavishes upon you, not because you deserve it or have earned it, but because of the all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Father’s only begotten Son. This gift of grace and eternal life isn’t just offered to us, but to all who are turned and hold in faith to Christ and His all-redeeming death and resurrection alone.

Again, we all know all this, and yet we sometimes seem to forget it. That’s why this parable is for us, not because we need reminding of our sinful prodigal ways, but because we need reminding of our sinful pride, our feeling entitled just like the elderly brother when he showed his Pharisaical ways as well. We all need to be reminded that God so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for the sins of all who fill it.

Now, I know that there are many other lessons we could glean from this parable. And, I hate to say it, but that is a “problem” with this parable. There are just so many directions you can go. I know that some of you have prodigal loved ones in your life. We all have those people who have wandered from the Church and not yet found their way back. Whether it’s out of prodigal foolishness or angry pride, or whether they feel that coming to church is just a low priority, it hurts, no matter what the reason. So often we look to a lesson like this for an answer to the question, “How do I get the wayward one in my life to turn around and come home?” And as much as I don’t like letting you down, there’s nothing you can do. You can pray and watch and patiently wait. In fact, I encourage you to do so. While God can turn them, even He won’t make them turn. The truth is, as long as life is going according to their plan, they won’t recognize their prodigal ways and will remain away.

As a pastor, I can tell you that little brings me more sorrow than having to sit back and watch as people I love behave like prodigal sons. But the other side of that coin is true as well, little brings me more joy than when I have a chance to speak the life-giving words of absolution to one who has returned after realizing the reality of their sin.

That’s really the reason for our gathering today. It’s a heavenly feast for prodigal sons, and I’m right here with you. That’s the point. Rather than point you to impossible things that you can’t do or promises you can’t keep, I simply point you to the feast in your midst. I point you to the reason to celebrate and give thanks to God. His Word is proclaimed; His sacraments administered. Our God and Lord comes to us at the font and feeds us at His table. So, you freely confess your sins knowing there is a greater truth. In Jesus, The debt of sin has been paid in full and you are forgiven.

On the altar of the cross, better than any fattened calf, the Lamb of God has been slain for the life of the world. He is the One who was raised on the third day and now lives and reigns for all eternity. Each time we gather at His table, we feast with this King of Kings as His baptized and restored children, confident of His Father’s love for us all.

In His Name, Amen

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