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A Man Who Had Two Sons

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  • \\ "A Man Who Had Two Sons"*
    The Rev. Philip R. Taylor

Luke 15:11-32

Then he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me.”  So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery. ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch; so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs.  And he would willingly have filled himself with the husks the pigs were eating but no one would let him have them. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger!  I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men.”   So he left the place and went back to his father. ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity.  He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick!  Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate. ‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about.  The servant told him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we had been fattening because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; but he retorted to his father, “All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property—he and his loose women—you kill the calf we had been fattening.” ‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.” ’  [1]

There are three main characters in this story, a father, and his two sons.  The first and most familiar character in the story is of course the younger son, the one who gives the story its name.  He is the most identifiable of the three.  He is like us. We are like him. All of us have been like him at some point in our lives.  If we didn't actually 'hit the road' like he did, then we certainly thought about it. He can be characterized by the following thoughts:

"Give me mine, now! I want what's mine and then some.  I don't want to have to wait for it.  I'm getting out of here; no more small town, small minded people for me; I'm going where there is plenty of wine and some women to go with it…Oh no, I've lost all the money.  My friends have left me.  I need a job, any job, even slopping the hogs will do.  Lord have mercy this is hard work.  The pigs are better off than me.  It's time to go home and say I'm sorry."

The younger son is representative of our vain lust for what we see as luxuries of the world.  He is the ultimate materialism man.  He is us.

The second character, the older son, has been lost to the father as well.  He becomes lost to self-righteousness, ego, pride, and stubbornness.  That sounds familiar too.  Listen to the thoughts of the older son.

"Wait just a minute. I've stayed home with Dad, said my prayers, got up early, worked hard all day, and never asked for my share early. Now, this jerk, your son, no longer my brother, comes home after losing his inheritance to whores and wine, and you, Father, are giving him a party.  I can't believe it.  He's a sinner and should be punished and I'm righteous. There shouldn't even be a party but if there is one, the party should be for me."

The older son is representative of how sometimes our faith communities react to repentance.  It's: let's shoot the wounded and we can then get on with being righteous.  He is the ultimate legalist in our midst.  He is us.

We have all been like the older brother too.

The third character, 'a man who had two sons', lost both of his sons. He wants both of them back into the family. He risks ridicule and rejection by welcoming home the younger son and he risks his pride as a father by pleading with the older son to come to the party and help restore the family. His thoughts might be reflected in these words.

"Oh, thank God, my son is returning home.  I love him so much and I thought he was gone forever.  Welcome home son, stop with the 'I'm sorry business' just let me hold you and kiss you. Please son, come into the party and welcome home your brother. You know I love you too. Please let's be a family again."

I believe that Jesus, through this story, is asking us to understand that God is like the waiting father, a father who lost both of his sons, the younger son to the lure of money and wild living, the older son to jealousy and self righteousness, but a father who wants both his sons to return to him.  Jesus understands that we are often like both the younger son and the older brother in this story, and that it may be easy for us to identify with one or both of them.  Jesus, however, wants us to do something more important and more difficult.  He wants us to begin to identify with and become more like the waiting father, giving, and forgiving.  He wants us to begin to understand and live in a new way, in a new world, called God's kingdom, where forgiveness, generosity, and healing are the orders of the day.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory tonight and forevermore.  Amen


[1]The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985. Includes indexes. (Lk 15:11). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

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