“‘That Son of Yours!’ The Injustice of Grace”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Lent IV - March 31, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=420610732)

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

 

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

 

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

 

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

 

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

 

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(Video of this Sermon)

Prayer.

 

Oh, boy!

Where do I start?

 

The challenges of preaching on this parable of Jesus are many.

1. It’s well known.

Most of us are familiar with it.

2. It’s been interpreted by preachers, professors, video Bible study leaders, and countless Sunday school teachers.

Quality and frequency varies, as does memory and age.

Even still, there aren’t many unturned stones.

3. This parable often arouses the dysfunction of families to bubble to the surface.

Coffee hour, the ride home, and conversation around the dinner table could be interesting.

It might be painful for many.

 

Let start with finding a title for this parable.

 

In the original Greek

There are no titles, chapters, or verses in the Gospels.

These have all been added later by scribes, editors, and early Church fathers.

The title assigned to a section, event, or parable

Reflect the author’s bias and

Shape the audience perspective.


How we think about the Gospel is often shaped

By how others thought about the Gospel.

 

So, what should we title our parable?

Here is my top four titles:

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

3. “Parable of Two Lost Sons”

4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

 

I started out with 10,

Thinking each would make a good sermon point.

I wrote 2 and cut it back to 8.

It was still too long, so

I settled in on 4.

 

At the end of the day,

Jesus promises to offend everyone

By the injustice of God’s grace.


1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

Obviously, this is the traditional title assigned to this parable.

Prodigal means “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” (Google search)

It assumes the younger son’s point of view:

He was rebellious.

He engaged in sinful behavior.

He loses everything.

No one helps him.

Life is terrible feeding pigs.

Even non-practicing, secular Jews would find slopping pigs abhorrent.

 

He plans and carries out a scheme to manipulate his father

With the hope that he will be allowed back home and reinstated as if nothing happened.

The Prodigal Son’s plan is successful.

Moral of the story: no matter how bad you mess up your life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

There is nothing - nothing whatsoever - that can separate anyone from the love of God.

It is our Father’s deepest, longing desire that we return home.


The Lord leaves the light on and the door unlocked.

We are always welcome and encouraged to return to our Heavenly Father.

 

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

This point of view could have come from the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.

Judgment is often decreed by those deemed most righteous,

Those who you or I might feel comfortable watching our children or grandchildren.

We certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving our loved ones

With tax collectors and sinners.

This is the kind of judgment that Pharisees and scribes would have made:

The youngest son is an awful person who gets an awesome party.

 

If we find ourselves in this group of people

Who work hard to maintain our conservative, righteous credentials

Along with the Pharisees and scribes

It’s natural to resent the younger son.

This naturally leads us to question

“What is God’s answer to our resentment?”

 

Answer: love.

God’s love is lavish, abundant, without regard to prior behavior.

God doesn’t appear to be concerned with

How it plays in public opinion polls

Or what other people think.

Moral of the story: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.


3. “Parable of Two Lost Sons”

How does a loving Father end up raising two knuckle-headed, hopelessly lost sons?

 

Growing up the youngest of four

In our Pennsylvania Dutch family,

I know that I got away with murder.

I also know how stubborn and bull-headed I can be.

 

I could very well be that younger brother seeking to sow my oats.

Fact: I don’t like getting my hands dirty, or

Working under a hot sun.

My brother works sun up to sun down just to smite me.

He makes me look bad.

Fact: I don’t deserve the inheritance;

It is supposed to all go to the eldest male child.

Asking for it plays on my Father’s soft heart.

Giving it to me tells me that my Father is soft in the head, too.


My name is “Mayhem” and I star in the Allstate commercials.

 

At the same time

I could very well be


That older brother working out in the field.

Fact: The baby of the family was always Father’s favorite,

And he always gets a free pass.

Fact: That brother of mine never worked a hard day in his life. 

Fact: I was happy when he left.

I hoped he never returned.

Fact: When he did return, no one even had the courtesy to tell me.

Fact: He’s dead to me.

I’m never talking to him again.


To which the loving Father responds:

“‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (15:31-32)

Moral of the story: Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.


4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

Maybe, if dad had raised his sons better, they wouldn’t have turned out so rotten?

Where is the mother in the house?

Talk about dysfunction!

All three of them need psychiatric intervention and long-term care!

 

No matter how one experiences this parable of Jesus,

It is obvious to all that the loving, patient Father

Does not treat his two sons equally or fairly.

 

The Father gives to his young buck a share of the inheritance

That belonged to his eldest son.

It wasn’t his to give.

 

The Father was watching and waiting for his son to return.

He wasn’t out in the field working with his eldest,

Pulling his fair share of the work.

 

The Father was quick to give his prodigal son

Even more wealth and riches - that weren’t his to give.

He gives him a robe, ring, and sandals.

He gives him his brother’s prize winning 4-H calf.

The eldest son raised him from a pup.

 

The Father failed to invite his elder son to the party.

Holy cow; no wonder the elder son is angry,

Dug his heels in, and refused to go in.

 

There is overflowing resentment towards his Father who treated him unfairly.

“But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (15:30)

He’s outraged!

Can you blame him?


Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

If God’s grace was fair

The lost would never be found.

The dead would never be raised.

And the only means of redemption and salvation

Would be to work our way into heaven.

 

I can’t speak for you,

But I’m just not good enough.

 

The injustice of God’s grace

Reminds us that we are not God;

To pretend otherwise is idolatrous.

 

Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Sunshine comes to the good and the bad.

God’s favor comes to the deserving and the undeserving.

 

The only way for the lost to be found

Is if God’s grace is apportioned according to God’s wisdom,

Not ours.

 

This parable of two sons

Is no more a creative license to eat, drink, and be merry

Than it is to try to earn your way into heaven.

 

When it comes to God’s grace,

Some just need more than others.

 

…………..


These are the promises of Jesus: no matter how bad you mess up life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

 

Jesus wants us to know these essential truths: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant. Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

 

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

But it is sufficient.

 

God’s grace is motivated by our Father’s love

Who desires the lost to be found,

The sinner to be forgiven,

The estranged to be reconciled,

The dead to be given new life.

 

That’s good enough for me.

How about you?

Amen.