On Sunday we heard the parable of the father and the two sons from Luke 15. Here is an excerpt from the sermon for your continued reflection this week:
‘All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.’ And the Pharisees
and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘He welcomes sinners and eats
with them.’ So Jesus told them this parable: ‘A man had two sons…’ (Luke 15:1-3).
In its simplest form, this is a story about a family – and the family is broken. Everyone is lost. And in the family of God to be lost is the same as death. It’s the distance between us that kills us. Both sons were lost. The father went out to meet them where they were. He didn’t wait for them to get all the way home, or to come in from the field. He didn’t demand apologies, he didn’t wait for repentance. He met contrition and responded with joy. He met anger and countered with acceptance. With each son, the father confronted isolation and brokenness and responded with unconditional love.
Maybe this story of the father and his two sons is an invitation to us, in our individual lives, in our families, in our church life, and in our interactions in the world, to engage in the difficult, painful, oftentimes unrewarding practice of reconciliation. Maybe this story is our invitation to practice unconditional love toward those who are lost and broken – those who have wandered away from home looking for something they will never find, those who have been cast out from their homes because they are unwanted or don’t meet expectations, those whose homes have been destroyed by war or genocide, those whose homes are broken beyond repair by anger and jealousy, by longing and despair. In other words, maybe this story asks us, “How do WE, how CAN we, go out and meet and embrace, and even love, those who are lost?”
This story probably didn’t satisfy the Pharisees and the scribes. It’s not clear in the story that anybody repents. The younger son’s repentance on his return home seems inauthentic at best and manipulative at worst. The older son says all sorts of horrible things about his brother that he has no way of substantiating, and there is no indication that he repents of his anger and goes in to join the party. And nowhere in the story do we hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” And yet, there’s a party! The fatted calf is killed, and people come to the table and eat! Just like Jesus with the sinners and tax collectors. There is no indication from Jesus or from anybody else that the sinners and tax collectors had repented or turned from their sinful and tax-collecting ways. They didn’t ‘deserve’ to sit down to the table and eat with Jesus. And yet, they are still welcome to the table with Jesus. Still, there is a party. Still, he eats with them!
Ultimately, the parable Jesus told isn’t a story about who is right and who is wrong, it’s not about who is in and who is out, it’s not about who repents and who forgives. It’s a story about being lost and being found; it’s about reconciliation. The truth is no one has a right to be at the party. Period. All of us have wandered away and gotten lost. And yet all of us are welcome to the party, all of us are invited in. If the Gospel tells us anything, it’s that we need one another. To the question, “Who can sit at the table?” Jesus seems to say, “In the Family of God…the party is thrown for hungry, scheming younger children, and for jealous and bitter older siblings, and for sad, neglected and manipulated parents. In short, the party is for all of us.” And that, my friends, is Good News!