by Interim Pastor Dog Marshall
Nobody deserves anything, good or bad. It’s all grace. If you accepted that, you might be able to relax a little.
Robert Boughton to his prodigal son, Jack, in Home, Marilynne Robinson p27
A Parable in "F"
Most of you probably know this story. However, I’d like to share with you a version that you probably haven’t heard. W.O. Taylor, a retired Baptist preacher, wrote his own variation of the story, called The Final Fixing of the Foolish Fugitive.
Feeling footloose, fancy-free and frisky, this feather-brained fellow finagled his fond father into forking over his fortune. Forthwith, he fled for foreign fields and frittered his farthings feasting fabulously with fair-weather friends. Finally, facing famine, and fleeced by his fellows in folly, he found himself a feed flinger in a filthy farmlot. He fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from the fodder fragments.
“Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare far fancier,” the frazzled fugitive fumed feverishly, frankly facing fact.
Frustrated from failure and filled with forebodings, he fled for his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he floundered forlornly. “Father, I have flunked and fruitlessly forfeited further family favors…”
But the faithful father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged his flunkies to fetch forth the finest fatling and fix a feast.
But the fugitive’s fault-finding frater, faithfully farming his father’s field for free, frowned at this fickle forgiveness of former falderal. His fury flashed, but fussing was futile.
His foresighted father figured, “Such filial fidelity is fine, but what forbids fervent festivities? The fugitive is found! Unfurl the flags! With fanfare flaring, let fun, frolic and frivolity flow freely, former failures forgotten and folly forsaken. Forgiveness forms a firm foundation for future fortitude.
“More Holy Humor” Samra p64-65
Let me share with you a few details about this story. A young man asked his father for his share of the inheritance. According to Deuteronomy that would be 1/3 of everything the father owned. This request is the same as saying “Dad, I wish you were dead so I could get my money.” The normal response of a father would be to punish his son until he got back in line. Instead, the father gave his son what he asked for. The son broke his father’s heart. He broke the relationship.
After the younger son spent all his money and became desperate, he got a job taking care of pigs. Remember that Jews detest pigs. They won’t have anything to do with them. In other words, this young man was as low as he could get, barely surviving by feeding pigs. He realized that his father’s hired hands, the lowest of the servants, were better off than he was. He decided to go home, hoping to get a job as a slave and a decent meal, dreaming that maybe someday he could work his way back into the good graces of his dad.
As the boy approached his home the father heard about it. Normally, in a situation like this, the father would hold back. He’d make his son walk through the village where all the people would treat him with scorn. The boy would get to the house and knock on the gate. A servant would come out to see who it was. The servant would go talk to the father, who’d make the boy wait a little bit longer. Eventually the boy would be let into the house where he would be punished.
In the parable the father did something completely unexpected. As soon as he heard about his son coming home he ran to meet him. In that culture men over the age of 30 do not run. They walk in a slow and dignified manner. The father in our parable lifted up his robe, showing his underwear to everyone, and raced to meet his son. He hugged him and kissed him. He didn’t worry about the shame or loss of honor that he would experience. He gave his son a robe which was a symbol of honor. He gave him a ring which was a symbol of authority. He gave him shoes which meant that he was still part of the family. He welcomed his son home and threw him a party. Not at all what was expected.
More often than not, when I’ve heard this story preached, the focus has been on the younger son. The message is one we all need to hear: No matter how much we rebel against God, we are always loved and welcomed back. There is nothing you can do that will make God give up on you. Some of you may feel like the prodigal son or a prodigal daughter. Maybe you did something that brings you shame, something that hurt someone else and maybe even destroyed a life. The world is filled with prodigals. We must remember that God welcomes them home and loves them just as they are. God wants a relationship with you.
I have a sense, though, that more of us are like the older brother. We have our Scouts here today. They are good kids – Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. We are good Christians here. We are nice people. Most of us are a lot like the older brother. At least I know that I am.
When the older brother heard about the party he got angry and refused to go in. At a party like this the father would sit with his guests, with the guest of honor sitting beside him. The oldest son was expected to stand behind the father and act as the head waiter. He made sure that everyone had enough food or whatever they needed. He would offer the guest of honor the best pieces of meat, saying “Eat this for my sake.” But the guest of honor at this party was his younger brother. After everything he had done there was no way the older brother was going to serve his younger brother. It’s one thing to let him come home – but throwing a party for him! That was too much.
Not going in to the party and serving was an insult to the father. The younger son insulted his father by asking for the inheritance and squandering it. The older son also insulted his father. Usually the father would be expected to punish the older son. Instead he went out to the older son and begged for him to come in. Just as the father had endured shame by running out to greet his prodigal son, he was willing to endure the shame and the loss of honor with the older son because above all else, his greatest desire was for a relationship with his sons.
About 20 years ago I was on a spiritual retreat that was led by Brennan Manning. Brennan was a Franciscan priest, as well as a speaker and author. His best known book is called “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” Brennan used this parable as the basis for his talks and he focused on God’s love for the rebellious younger son. Brennan had been the prodigal son who had come home. As the retreat went on I got more and more frustrated because I can relate so much more to the older brother. At one point we had an hour of silence – to pray, to listen to God and to reflect on the story. At first I was filled with turmoil. I couldn’t concentrate or relax. I wasn’t hearing anything from God. Then I reread this story one more time and a phrase jumped out at me. Notice what the father says after the older brother complains. “Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours’” (Luke 15:31). All that is mine is yours. All the blessings of God are yours. All the love of God is yours. All the power of God is yours. All the joy of God is yours. All the peace of God is yours.
Most of us are probably a combination of younger and older son. We’ve all done things that are wrong, that are sinful. We’ve all turned away from God at times. God’s reckless grace has been freely given to us no matter who we are or what we have done. We also have been good people in many ways. We’ve been obedient and faithful. God loves us, not because of what we have done, or not done. God just chooses to love us. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. There nothing we can do to earn God’s love. It is already ours. God says to you and to me, “All that is mine is yours.”
This story really isn’t about the Prodigal Son, or the older brother. It is a story of a father who loved both of his sons, a father who reached out to both of them, a father who was generous to both of them. Both sons spent time in a pigpen. The younger son spent time in the pigpen of rebellion and sin. The older son spent time in the pigpen of bitterness, legalism and pride. Both were lost, but both were invited into their father’s love. Both were given the call “Come home!”
Jesus doesn’t end the story. We don’t know if the older brother came in to the party. We don't know if the younger brother turned his life around. Neither do we know how we will respond to God’s grace. May God move in our lives in such a powerful way that we will accept the outlandish grace of God and live in the relentless love of God. May we join in the celebration of the good news that we were dead, but have been brought to life, that we were lost and now we are found. May we respond to the call of Jesus; Come home, come home! Jesus is calling, “O sinner, come home!”