The Dangers of Coming Home: A Sermon on the Prodigal Son

return-of-the-prodigal-son-forain

Jesus is gathered with his disciples and all around him are tax collectors and Pharisees, sinners and scribes and he uses the opportunity to tell them three stories of grace. He talks about a shepherd who has 100 sheep, but he notices that one is missing. So he leaves the 99 in the wilderness to search for the one. Anyone looking at this situation thinks the shepherd completely foolish!

Then Jesus tells of a woman who has ten coins and loses one. She sweeps the house, tears her house apart until she finds her lost coin. Then, when she finds her lost coin, she rejoices and throws a party that costs her far more than the one coin. Again, foolish to many onlookers. So when Jesus wants to hammer the point home, he tells the story of a father who has two sons.

We know this story as the Prodigal Son, the one where the younger son tells his father he wishes he was dead and wants his inheritance. The father grants his wish and the son sets off for a faraway land. Eventually he squanders everything he has and finds himself feeding pigs food that he, himself, would willingly eat. Not a good situation. Especially the good, law-abiding Jewish people hearing Jesus tell this story. So he decides he’s going to come home.

But this is an incredibly dangerous and risky idea. In the book of Deuteronomy, it talks about rebellious sons. In Deuteronomy 21, we hear this:

 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him,then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.

According to the law — which the Pharisees listening would know better than anyone — upon returning home, the son could be punished by death.

So the son rehearses his apology over and over again as he’s walking home. And we hear that “while the son was still far off” his father saw him and began running to him. Now, think about this. A dad who had been so scorned by his son years earlier, a dad who had every right to be upset and hold this act of rebellion against him — even so far as to be legally permitted to kill him — sees his son coming up the road and he takes. off. running.

He meets his son on the road and before the son can get his rehearsed apology out, the father embraces him and kisses him, tells the servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare a celebration because his son was dead and is alive again.

But I wonder…

I wonder if the father running out to meet the son was not only out of deep love and compassion, but also out of an instinct to protect him. The father would certainly know the punishment for the son as well. So when he runs to him and the first thing he does is to embrace him, to physically wrap his own body around his son’s, I wonder if this isn’t where we hear the story of grace most clearly.

It’s almost as if the father is saying, “If you’re going to kill my child, you’re going to have to kill me too. That’s how deep my love is.”

The father joins himself to the fate of the son in the same way God joins our fate to Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. In just a few weeks, on Good Friday, we’ll hear the story of just how far God’s love will reach to be with us and for us in our suffering and brokenness. 

Then God sends us out to share this good news with a hurting world. We are the body of Christ here in this world to run out of our houses, run out of our places of comfort safety to embrace those who are lost and forsaken.

I wonder what it would look like if everyone hearing this story in churches around the world this morning ran out of church to embrace and be with those who are lost and in need? How would that change our community? How would that change us? To join people in their worry and suffering, not so that we can fix them, but simply to be with them, embrace them, re-assure them that they too are loved children of a gracious God, this is our call as the body of Christ. 

So as we go on our way today, may we be blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear where God is calling us to embrace our hurting world. May we be blessed to realize that this whole thing is a gift from God to love and care for each other. And may we continue to give thanks for all of the ways that God’s love is transforming us and our world into a more loving and gracious shape.

Amen.

 

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