Lent 4 Year C
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
“That’s just not fair”
“You will get what is coming to you.”
How often do we justify our own position with a desire for someone else to experience delayed repercussions? Somehow, we want to assuage our own desire for affirmation, for accomplishment, with the desire of they will have suffer the consequences of their immediate actions later.
God has other plans.
God turns our human desires upside down, our expectations of revenge, retribution and resistance into grace, mercy and love.
The Gospel of Luke Luke tells us stories of mercy, love, and redemption.
Stories of people, named and unnamed. Stories of grace and audacious love.
People who come to Jesus in need of healing, in need of acceptance, in need of miracles.
Much like Matthew, Mark and John, these stories are similar and yet Luke tells some of his own unique stories. They are longer, these stories are more involved, when we read them on Sunday mornings we settle in for the whole story. Luke’s stories are familiar and also always inviting to hear God’s love in a new way.
Today is quintessential Luke. Settle in. Jesus is teaching.
At the beginning of our Gospel today we hear that those gathered around are the Pharisees and Scribes. Jesus has been up to his typical things: eating and drinking with those who are around. Healing, teaching, being present with the people in the market place.
And the Pharisees and scribes are up to their typical thing: Grumbling. Judging and quibbling.
Jesus keeps teaching. He doesn’t tell the Scribes and Pharisees (here at least) you will get what you deserve. Nor does he argue with them about what is fair. Instead, we hear Jesus tell a story.
The parable we have today skips over two parables that precede it, the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the lost coin. The parable we hear today of the prodigal son is the culmination of Jesus’ message to the pharisees and scribes.
We are familiar with the story.
A man with two sons.
One asks for his inheritance early and leaves the house.
The second son, the older son, the first born, stays home. The older son tends the fire, manages the farm, lives with the family.
The younger son squanders his money. He ends up taking a job tending pigs. As a Jew this is would be an unclean occupation and also reflects that the son was willing to submit to supporting the Roman Empire (who else is eating pork?!)… and he realizes, it would better working at his father’s farm.
Let’s be clear, the younger son does not have a contrite heart. He is not repentant. He does not admit that he is sorry, that he has changed, that he regrets what he asked for or even his actions. Instead, the son once again asks for what is not deserved nor earned- this time a job from his father. He rehearses his speech and begins the journey home.
We know what the father does. When the father sees his son, he runs to his son, before his son can even finish his rehearsed speech, his father has already started making plans, re-establishing the son into the family as a full member.
And if the story ended there, well it would be much like leaving the hallmark movie with 15 minutes to go. We would be left wondering “what about” the other brother.
The older son has his huffy and puffy moment.
His father goes to meet him also. The older son essentially says, “where are the consequences to his actions” and “Where are the rewards of my faithfulness?” “This is unfair to me.”
The father embraces his son exactly where he is and says to him, “Son you are exactly what you needed to be, you are exactly the son I need and you, too, are home. Come and rejoice in my joy for both of you.”
Come and rejoice.
I wonder where might you see yourself in this story?
Have you been the father faced with hard choices, faced with demands that are altruistic, that you do out of love even though you know the difficulties they might lead to? Forgiving when you were not required to, even when it might cost you?
Have you been the father who has been able to give thanks for the faithful who have always been with you and those who have recently returned? Those who have never left your side, quietly, constantly, present, enduring with you?
Can you see yourself as the son who asked for more than they deserved and have squandered much? As the child who received more grace than you deserve? Making wrong decisions over and over again and feeling entitled, lost, and that you can figure it all out on your own, if you only had enough money, success or “fill in the blank.”
Can you see yourself as the older son? The one who is in the shadows, present and faithful, filling in the gaps and feeling unappreciated?
Each son needed to come home, to feel the embrace of the Father.
One son needed to come home geographically, to find that financial stability and safety that was provided within the boundaries of his father’s land and understand that love is more than financial stability or success in material ways.
One son needed to come home in his heart, to more deeply understand that his father’s love for him was not diminished by the different outpouring of love for his brother.
Each needed the embrace of grace, mercy, and love.
More than they deserved.
“Unfairly” lavished upon both.
Our hearts are hungry to be heard, to be embraced, to be given the love that we crave. If we are honest, that is what we, too, are looking for, approval, acceptance, affirmation.
In grade school we seek approval in getting the right answer, spelling all of the words right, perfect attendance.
In high school it is getting into the next school.
In college it is the right next step be it a job or graduate school.
Each of these next steps emphasize personal achievement.
If we are not careful, we become like the brothers, seeking more only for self-satisfaction and we miss that we are called to come together rather than see each other as competition.
If we are not careful, we become like the Pharisees and Scribes, we forget the joy that each person brings to the table, the joy that God has meeting us like the father, right where we are and wherever we might find ourselves. The joy we, too, fully realize when all are fully receiving God’s love, realized and embraced for who we are.
Joy/Love that runs across the field to meet us, yes YOU.
Joy that levels the playing field with love, transforming us and our whole demeanor because joy begets joy.
Even in this season of Lent we are called to be and see this type of Joy.
In this war-torn world where innocents are being killed , sons and fathers left behind to fight an ungodly war, we are to seek the space to protect those in harm’s way and seek community, promote peace not inequity of power.
In this space where we are polarized with parties, we are to seek the dignity of every human being as they are seen by God. Beloved.
We are to seek and be the Joy that puts aside the personal gain first and runs to welcome each person and welcome them to the table.
We are to seek community over competition.
This is Jesus’ message to the Pharisees and Scribes grumbling and it is the same message to us…..
How will we receive this challenging message of love and walk in love this week?
Let us pray:
God beyond rivalry,
Our desire to have more, to be more to achieve more than others can lead us badly astray.
In Christ you walked among us showing a different way, a way not dominated and directed by rivalry.
May the way of the father guide us, to support the weak, to encourage the fearful, to welcome the estranged. In the name of he who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen[i]
[i] What were you arguing about along the way? 2021 Edited by Pat Bennett. Prayer by Trevor Williams Page 180