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The Waiting Father

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Lent 4: 21 March 2004
"A Man Who Had Two Sons"
Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

1 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. 2 The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." 3 Their grumbling triggered this story. [1]

11 Then he said, "There was once a man who had two sons. 12 The younger said to his father, 'Father, I want right now what's coming to me.' "So the father divided the property between them. 13 It wasn't long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. 14 After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. 15 He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. 16 He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. 17 "That brought him to his senses. He said, 'All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. 18 I'm going back to my father. I'll say to him, Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; 19 I don't deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.' 20 He got right up and went home to his father. "When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.' 22 "But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! 24 My son is here-given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time. 25 "All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day's work was done, he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. 26 Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. 27 He told him, 'Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast-barbecued beef!-because he has him home safe and sound.' 28 "The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen. 29 The son said, 'Look how many years I've stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? 30 Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!' 31 "His father said, 'Son, you don't understand. You're with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours-32 but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he's alive! He was lost, and he's found!' "

[1]Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Luke 15:1-3). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

I will forever be in debt to my friend, John Causey, who pastors a Presbyterian church in Eastern North Carolina. Several years ago, he encouraged me to read Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is still one of my favorites. I remember thinking silently, "Now what can an old Catholic priest tell me about this story from Luke that I don't already know?" Fortunately, I bought the book and read it. Father Nouwen indeed had a lot to tell me about this story and thanks to his brilliance, I am still finding new ways of reading and understanding this wonderful and familiar parable.

There are of course three main characters in the story, a father, and his two sons. Jesus tells this parable in response to the criticism of his ministry that 'He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.'

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 male and female 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 and 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 our faith communities often 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 today and forevermore. Amen

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