Sunday December 4, 2016 | Seth McCoy
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
As we move toward Christmas during our Across the Universe series, Seth explores what it means when God, the Creator of the universe, calls us home. This message took a look at what home means, and what we’re being invited in to, as seen through the unique lens of the prodigal son.
Few words in the English language evoke as much emotion as the word “home.” From those who don’t have one, or have very negative memories and feelings tied to it, to those who swell with positive nostalgic emotions, the word home creates a deep longing and desire of some sort in most all of us. We all know deep down what it could and should be – a sense of safety and belonging, where one is accepted unconditionally and loved almost irrationally, and a place where everyone is for you every day in every way.
The idea of home evokes a lot of emotion especially around Christmas. In many ways, both physically and spiritually, Christmas is about a journey back home. Home is both location and relationship. Most of us have had experiences where one of these two components is not present and it just doesn’t feel right. Even though we’ve wondered off, God not only gave us a home in the beginning, He has also given us a light to lead us back.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of stories about something getting lost and then found. His audience includes both tax collectors and sinners (who were gathering), as well as the scribes and teachers of the law (who were grumbling). The first two parables of the lost sheep and lost coin were a little more palatable for the teachers of the law as almost everyone can celebrate stories of that nature, but when the heat is turned up with the much more scandalous prodigal son story it exposes their heart.
The father in the story essentially had to tear his life apart in order to honor the request of early inheritance from the younger son. The father’s community would have observed what was happening (selling of land and livestock) and thought he should be ashamed of that boy. The son leaves home and then sometime later the story it describes his losing the wealth through wild living and then eventually coming to his senses. What isn’t spelled out is that in Hebrew culture, this action by the son is equivalent to disowning his family. This would bring a great deal of shame and separation in the family. The culture even had a ritual for cases like this where the father would break a pot on the ground upon an estranged child’s return home as a sign of what he has been broken cannot be put back together. This is what the younger son would have expected, even while he’s putting together his apology and request to be back in the family.
What we as readers sometimes miss in this famous parable is that this invitation to come back home is for both sons. The younger son has created a great physical distance (“far away land”) that must traveled, but we also learn the older son has created a great relational chasm between he and his family (“that son of yours”). Just as the father went out to the younger son as he was still a long way off and welcomes him home with extravagance, we see the father going out again but this time to talk with his older son knowing he’s now in danger of losing him as well. We see the older son’s heart revealed as he tells his father that he’s “slaved” for him all these years with no appreciation. We see that both sons actually wanted the good stuff from their father, but were misled as to where true life actually comes from. The father is inviting both of them back home as he tells the older son “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
This story and invitation is not only for both sons, it’s for all of us. No matter which son we more readily identify with, or even if we identify with a younger son who has quickly become an older son after receiving grace, this invitation back home is for all of us who have wondered off. The story is left open ended from the older son’s perspective. This is most likely on purpose from Jesus’ standpoint in order to provoke a response from the teachers of the law who were there. Everyone listening has to write their own ending to the story. Jesus’ parable begs the question “how is your story going to end?”