Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lent 4C - The Prodigal Son - Thoughts in preparation for worship...

Of all Jesus’ parables the story of the “Prodigal Son” is perhaps one of the best known. We are all familiar with this story of how the youngest son very inappropriately asks for his inheritance before his father dies and then takes the money goes off to the 1st Century Palestinian equivalent to Las Vegas and then throws all the money away on what the old King James version called “riotous living.” And then a famine struck the land and the boy was left with nothing, starving and tending swine and eating the pods he is supposed to be feeding the pigs. “What am I doing?” he finally asks himself and he resolves to return home and beg his father to allow him to serve him as a hired hand, since he figures he will at least eat better. So he sets off and one can imagine that he practices that famous line over and over: “Father, I have sinned against God and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands.” But before he has a chance to deliver this well-practiced line his father sees him far off and runs – yes, runs out to greet him and he throws a PARTY.

So far, so good, right? The first hearers of this story would have found it offensive to say the least. A son dishonoring his father by claiming his inheritance BEFORE his death – in essence the younger son is wishing his father dead by this act. The father, actually agreeing to it; the serving and tending of the swine (which was about as unclean as you could get for a 1st century Jew). And then the father’s running out to him with extravagant forgiveness!!! Now, if the father had stood by the house with his arms crossed, let the boy get out his line and then made him work his way back into the family – well, that would have been ok – but running and showering gifts and throwing a party. Scandalous! Is Jesus suggesting that God is this extravagant in his showing of grace and forgiveness?

And then the “good” son appears. No one had called him in. He hears the party and asks what is going on and when he finds out he is appalled and refuses to go in. “How is this fair!?!?” “You never even threw a goat-party for me!!! How come you throw a fatted-calf party of biblical proportions for this looser son of yours.” (Note – not “my brother”). There is enough to go round, says the father. Everything is yours, and there is enough for you and your friends and everyone.

What a story! It is so easy to understand where the older son is coming from. But he is not the “good” son; and this story is not about just one prodigal – it is about two. Both sons are lost. We know that one returns to the father – but, what about the other one? We don’t know what he decides to do.

1. Which of these sons are you? Which one do you relate to the most?

2. How do you feel about the Father’s extravagance?

3. Does it make you grateful or uncomfortable to think that Jesus is drawing a parallel with God’s grace and forgiveness – which is just as extravagant?
The Hymn of the day is the wonderful old American hymn by Frederick Faber “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” Most hymnals include the 4 verses which we will sing, but there is another verse which is left out for some reason. This verse I think relates to this older brother part of this parable and says something to many of us who tend to be like the older brother. It goes like this:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

We have an extravagant God – may we always be prepared and ready to return to Him and accept his extravagant love and grace and forgiveness; may we anxiously come to the banquet table – for God likes to party with those He loves!

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