4th Sunday in Lent
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The young man of the parable in our Gospel lesson did not plan to ever return to his father’s house. This young man planned to leave and go into the world, outside the confines of the household. First, he asks his father for his share of the estate and then waited for some time for his share to be liquidated into a form with which he could travel conveniently.
One can imagine what kind of fiscal maneuverings this must have taken for his father to comply. He probably didn’t have enough cash to simply hand over to his son. Today, it would be like having to liquidate some mutual funds, sell some assets (at a reduced rate), or to release money from a trust.
We may imagine the emotions the father was feeling, but the parable does not say the father did this grudgingly. One can imagine that it was probably half of the father’s entire property because he only had two sons.
As the story follows, the son squandered his wealth and was brought to a lowly state of a stranger in a strange land, fighting pigs for his meals. But remember, this young man knew how to make a plan, so he devised a way for him to return to his father. He decided to ask his father to make him one of his servants, because even his father’s servants had plenty of food to eat.
We might imagine the son practicing what he was to say to his father as he made his journey home. He may have thought what the best way to present his idea to his father: should I beg, should I cry? Maybe I could get my brother or one of the servants to speak to him if he won’t grant me entrance into the house.
His father sees him walking down the road to his house and runs to greet him. Now I don’t know about you, but as I get older in years, I find more reasons not to run anywhere. Yet here this elderly man with fields and cattle and servants at his command, runs to his son! If I were in the position of the son, I would be very afraid.
The son tries to recite what he has practiced in his mind all the way home, but before his second sentence can begin, his father is already commanding the servants to bring him clean clothes and shoes for his feet. He is ordering the best cow to be butchered for a banquet and for the ring that only an heir of his family is allowed to wear to be placed on his son’s finger.
The son is not a servant but a fully-fledged member of the family entitled to all the benefits and rights thereof. The father does not ask, “Where’s all the money you left with?” or, “Why are you back? I thought you disowned us.” No, he welcomes him as the loved son that left him in the first place.
As a good Lutheran would ask, “What does this mean?” Remember that Jesus is responding to the statement of the Pharisees, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What does this parable mean? Like the one lost sheep out of a hundred for which the shepherd searches, like the one lost coin out of ten for which a woman lights a lamp and sweeps the entire house until it is found, like the sinner who rejects his Heavenly Father and is returned to Him – we as His people are a valued possession. We as His family are sought after and welcomed with love, mercy and grace.
No matter how much we have squandered His gifts. No matter how long we have stayed away from His truth. No matter how many times we have rejected Him with anger or contempt. His love for us endures.
Where are you in this parable? Do you see yourself as the prodigal son that turned away from the father but now has returned? Do you see yourself as the faithful brother that remained loyal to his father and continued to toil in the fields? In addition, like that brother, are you jealous when God forgives His lost sheep and brings them back into the fold? Are you angry when a sinner is given the fine robes and the best food and treated like an equal? Or are you like the father in the story that welcomes the child he thought was lost forever with open arms and loving kisses?
In Isaiah chapter 12 Isaiah writes about an unfaithful people who have turned away from God to follow gods of their own making. He also speaks of those who remained in the true faith to the one true God. These people are known as the remnant of Israel. This remnant is scattered about the lands of Egypt, Cush in the lands of Ethiopia, from the islands of the sea and from Shinar, a land in Babylon where the tower of Babel once stood.
God says that he will restore His people once more. And in that day, the people will know that He is their God and they are His people. The people who were strewn among the foreign lands of the Middle East, Africa and Syria will thank the Lord with praise.
“And in that day” Isaiah writes, “you will say:
‘O Lord, I will praise You;
Though You were angry with me,
Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.’” [Isaiah 12:1]
The Lost Son is nothing new to God. He has experienced it time and again throughout the history of human existence. As human beings, born with sin in our hearts, we have often demanded from God to what we think we are entitled of His blessings and then walked away from our true Father in heaven.
When we finally return to our home, we find God waiting for us. He has not forgotten us and rejoices when we repent. He forgives us our trespasses and gives us more than we deserve. He gives us mercy and grace so that we might once more live with Him in His kingdom.
Think about your own lives. Have you ever had someone close to you hurt you by defying you and abandoning the relationship? It’s hard to be constantly forgiving loved ones who have rejected you time and time again, isn’t it? Yet as members of the body of Christ, that is what we do. We forgive trespasses as God forgives our trespasses. We do not lose anything in our relationship with our heavenly father when we follow Christ. As the father of the prodigal son in the parable says to the faithful son:
“you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” [Luke 15:32]
Remember, it is not our work that saves us. We all repeatedly sin against Christ and our Father in heaven. But no matter how many times we run away, we are always welcomed back when we turn back to God. The Hebrew word for repent, shoove, literally means to turn away from one direction and go in the opposite way. Here is how the New Bible Dictionary defines repent:
In Greek, ????????, it usually means ‘to change one’s mind’, and so also ‘to regret, feel remorse’ (i.e. over the view previously held). But the NT usage is much more influenced by the OT šû?; that is, repentance not just as a feeling sorry, or changing one’s mind, but as a turning round, a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life. This is why the best translation for the Greek word repent is often ‘to convert’, that is, ‘to turn round’ New Bible Dictionary, p.1007
Each time we confess our sins, when we repent of what we have done, we are saying that we are turning away from the path we once followed. We are saying that we have changed our mind, we feel regret and remorse over our previously held view, and that we convert from the old actions of our life to that of Christ. Each time we repent, we are that prodigal son returning home to our loving father. Each time we confess that we have sinned against heaven and against Our Lord, we are forgiven.
Like the prodigal son, we do not even have the chance to plead for mercy because through Christ, God our Father is already preparing a feast in our honor. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, our sins are wiped away and our sins are forgiven. Because of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, we are once again heirs to the kingdom of heaven. We are dressed in the finest robes, pure and holy, cleansed by the blood of the lamb, the blood of Christ. Because of Christ, we are given the ring which bears the family crest, the symbol that sets us apart from slaves of sin and eternal death.
At the time of Lent, many often give up something to symbolize in some small way a sacrifice to remind them of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have a suggestion as to what we all can sacrifice. Give up sin. Quit doing it. Turn away from the path you once followed and return to God. Return to the Father’s house.
Like the prodigal son, our sins are forgiven when we repent and turn back to God. Through Christ all anger has been turned away and God now comforts us. Surely God is our salvation.
Sing to the Lord,
For He has done excellent things;
This is known in all the earth.
Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion,
For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!” [Isaiah 12:5-6]