The Gospel St. Luke Ch 15 V.1
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.
We have heard the parable of the Prodigal Son so often over the years that we might be given to thinking that we can learn nothing new from it. After all, the basic message is about forgiveness, right? Son leaves home, son returns home, dad receives him with open arms. Ho hum, nothing more to be said. Well now, please bear with me as I get into the specifics; because it is in those particulars that we see and realize just how wondrous this forgiveness really is. Or put another way; God is in the details.
We know how the story begins; a certain man has two sons, and the man is obviously well-to-do. We may assume that he has fields and livestock in abundance, and his wealth enables him to employ some number of servants and slaves. The inheritance that the man will eventually leave to his sons will no doubt be substantial. But this is not good enough for the younger son.
The requirements of Jewish Law at that time meant that the elder son was entitled to two-thirds of the total inheritance, and the younger son would get the other third. We might also suppose that the elder son would get the “better” two-thirds; the prime land and livestock, along with whatever money might be left.
The younger son also appeared to be chafing a bit under his fathers rule. He’d had enough of this “country” living, with all the hard work it required. He hardly desired to put in even more hard work to make his meager one-third of the inheritance grow. And beside all that, he longed for action and excitement; he wanted to go to the big city! And so, in the sometimes callous way that young people have, he tells his father; “hey dad, I want to blow this popsicle stand. Give me my money now, and I’m out of here”!
Now this could not have set well with his father, who had worked so long and hard to provide for his family and to endow his sons. The young man seemed to be insensitive to all the hard work that his father had put in, and the love that it represented. No one would have blamed the father if he had resented his son’s cold-hearted attitude. But in keeping with that love which the father never lost for his son, he acquiesces, and gives the young man what he wants.
Lesson number one from the details; how often have we chafed under God’s rule? How many times have we callously disregarded everything God has done for us? How frequently have we ignored His love? Remember, in the end, we get what we want; Are we sure of what it is that we want?
Again, we know what happens next. The young man travels to the big city and really begins to live it up! For perhaps the first time in his life, he is free to do what he wants. He has money to spend; and it’s burning a hole in his pocket. “Eat, drink, and be merry” is the order of the day; and boy does he follow that order! It must have seemed like the party would never end. Until, one day, he opened his purse, and found that there was nothing left. Oops.
Well, no matter, thought the young man; I’ve got skills, I’ll just get a job. However, there was just one little problem; seems that while he had been living it up, a famine had come upon the region and the local economy had crashed; something we can all relate to today. There were no jobs to be had.
In desperation, the young man winds up having to settle for the lowest form of work available; feeding pigs. In fact, this was even lower than low; not only was this a particularly bad thing for a Jew to be subjected to, but it didn’t even pay enough for him to properly feed himself. He had hit rock bottom.
Lesson number two from the details; How often have we failed to prepare for what lies ahead? How many times have we thought; “we don’t have to worry about tomorrow; we can behave as we want because we have time on our side; it’ll all be OK!”
Remember that Christ has told us that we will not know the hour when God will call us home. Will we be ready, or must we also hit rock bottom first, before we start to properly prepare?
Now, having come to this lowest point, the young man realizes what an idiot he’s been. He finally understands that he already “had it all” in the home that he left; he had a father who loved him, and an inheritance promised to him. And he knows that he has thrown it all away. During his days of wanton living, he had not really been himself; he had been a creature of the world. But now, he has come to his senses; as Jesus puts it, “he came to himself”.
And so now, finally, the young man’s humility takes over. He will return home and acknowledge his sin and beg his father for forgiveness. Further, he will not presume to reclaim his former status as a son, but rather he will submit to his father and ask to be accepted as a servant.
Lesson number three from the details; it is not too late for any of us. It is never too late. We must each of us acknowledge our sins. We must admit that we have offended Our Heavenly Father and squandered the gifts that He has given to us. And we must submit ourselves to Him and ask that we be allowed to become his servants.
No doubt with some trepidation, the young man sets out for home. He prepares himself to face his father, knowing that he may not receive the warmest of welcomes. But even before he gets near his former home, his father sees him. And the old man rejoices because he knows that at long last, his son has returned to him.
Lesson number four from the details; God sees us and knows us always, in every way. He knows when we have turned away from Him, and He knows when we will return. And when we do return to Him, His Joy is unimaginable.
This then was the joy of that father as he saw his son coming home. He rushes to meet him and he brushes aside the young man’s attempt to make his confession. The father orders up a feast on the spot and he clothes his young son as the guest of honor. And the father does not rejoice alone; rather he invites all his household to rejoice with him.
Lesson number five; Remember that there is joy among the angels in heaven when one sinner, when one of us repents.
But of course, not everyone was thrilled that the young son had returned. His older brother was less than pleased, to say the least. As he comes in from another hard day in the fields, he hears the hoopla coming from inside the house, and he finds out that his father is throwing a party for his younger sibling, who has returned home. To say that he was steamed might be putting it mildly, and he refuses to join the celebration.
When his father comes out to find out why, his elder son lets him have it, and as he does, he says some things that are very revealing. First, he says, “I’ve worked so hard for you and done whatever you commanded, and yet you’ve never so much as given me a small goat so that I can party with my friends”. Second he tells his father, “but when YOUR SON, the one who’s wasted your money, shows up, for him you throw a big bash”!
“Me and my friends”. “YOUR SON”. The jealousy the elder son shows here is bad enough. But he also shows what his motivation has been all along. Not unlike his younger brother, he’s been in it for himself. He has toiled long and hard because he believes that in the end there’s some great reward waiting for him. Indeed, he thinks he’s entitled to it. Further, he is so overcome by his jealousy that he cannot even acknowledge his relationship to his younger sibling. He’s not “my brother”, he’s YOUR SON.
Lesson number six. How often do we allow ourselves to be overcome by jealousy and pride? Do we resent the attention and accolades that others may receive for some accomplishment or other? Do we believe that we are entitled to some sort of attention for whatever we have done for the Church? Do we come to Church, work at the Church, thinking that we will be rewarded for it? Or do we serve God just because we love him? Further, do we rejoice with all the angels, when others likewise choose to return to God, and do we welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ?
Of course the last word is reserved, as it should be, for the father. And he could have rebuked his elder son for his impertinence. But instead, the father’s words are gentle and wise and as forgiving of his elder son and he is of the younger. “My son”, he says, “I know how you have toiled long and hard; and your inheritance is assured. But it is the right thing to rejoice for YOUR BROTHER, for he was dead, and is now alive again; was lost, and now is found”.
Lesson number seven from the details. Because we work to love and serve God, and believe His Word, we can know that our inheritance is assured. To be sure that work will be long and hard, and the rewards may not be immediately obvious. Indeed, we may see others reaping rewards that seem undeserved while we continue to labor. But we must rejoice when we see others being rewarded for their service to God, and even more when some return to God. Further, it is right that we should show that forgiveness that the father showed for both his sons.
And so, there you have the details; (1) we must acknowledge that we have at times callously offended God. (2)We must prepare for what lies ahead in our spiritual journey. (3)We must submit ourselves to God and ask that we be allowed to become his servants. (4)God sees us and knows us always, in every way, and when we return to Him, His Joy is unimaginable. (5)There is joy among the angels in heaven when one sinner, when one of us repents. (6) We must set aside jealousy and pride and let our love of God be our motivation. And (7) it is right that we should show that same forgiveness that God Our Father has shown to us.
Of course all of this is about forgiveness. But we who would know the forgiveness of God, must likewise be ready to show that same forgiveness. After all, we are, in reality, both that elder son and the Prodigal son. Even as we work, we are still given to, on occasion, fall away. But if we follow this parable closely, if we learn from the details of the lesson told to us by Our Savior himself, then we will know the path to that wondrous forgiveness of God. After all, as they say, God is in the details.
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.