So this one kid goes up to his dad, who was the unquestioned boss in Jewish culture, and says, get this, “Dad, I can’t wait for you to die and leave me your cash. Give it to me now.” I can just imagine the audience listening to Jesus. Right there, this kid has earned a total smackdown.
But the story doesn’t go the way we expect. Jesus says, the father in the story says “Yes”! Sure, kid take half of what I own and do whatever you want. And what does a stupid kid want to do with a bunch of money he didn’t work for? He wants to leave town, go somewhere like Vegas, and spend all that cash on sex, drugs and rock and roll. So he does. So long, suckers!
The story continues that pretty soon, that kid is totally broke. He’s got no friends, he’s far from home, he ends up looking after pigs which are fed better than he is. Ahhh, says those listening to Jesus, this is what happens when you disrespect your parents and live like a floosy. I like this story.
The kid is lying there, filthy, starving and pathetic, and Jesus says, “He comes to himself.” He says to himself, “My dad’s workers are doing better than I am. Maybe I can get a job working for my old man! I’ll tell him some sob story about ripping him off, that I’m not worthy to be a son, but can I get a job?”
He sets out for home. This plan has the audience confused – what will happen when this total shmuck has the audacity to show himself after screwing up so badly?
While he was still far away, says Jesus, from home and in his heart, his father catches sight of him. The father runs up to his son to wrap him up in a bear hug, and kisses him with joy. Remember, this guy’s still got pig poop all over him. The surprised son tries to say what he’s rehearsed, but before he can get to what he wants from his dad, the father interrupts him: get my son some nice threads, new kicks, a bunch of bling! Call the caterer and invite the neighborhood, we’re going to party! For this son of mine, who was lost, has been found.
This child of mine was lost, and has been found.
However far you are from God in your life right now, picture this scene from the story in your mind, God the father running out to wherever darkness you’re in right now, full of joy and ready to celebrate you for who you are, only wanting to be close to you so that he can give you more dignity, more beauty, more celebration.
Jesus told this story so that you’d know how much God loves you, and it doesn’t matter to him what you’ve done or what you smell like.
Okay, now picture the people listening to Jesus. Their mouths are hanging open and they cannot believe their ears. So Jesus, knowing this, keeps going with the story.
See, there’s another son, the older one. He never left, he always obeyed, he always did the right thing. And he gets back from an exhausting day in the field and hears the party rocking, so he wants to know what’s going on. He hears third hand that his scumbag brother is back and his father is throwing a party to celebrate. And he is pee-pee'd off. Royally.
Because that’s sometimes how we feel when we see someone we hate be forgiven isn’t it? To our minds, and to the listeners of Jesus, the story just doesn’t seem fair – the mercy of God simply cannot be so free that after the worst things someone does, God still loves them!
So besides turning away from God and making bad choices, we need the rest of the story for when we are so shocked that those people whom we judge as terrible ‘get away’ with their sins.
The older brother has a big pout out in the yard – he refuses to attend his father’s party, and he separates himself from his father. And so his anger has led him to the same situation his brother was in – separated from the father, refusing to honour him, missing out on the party.
The father responds in the same way, he goes out to the older son to plead with him to return.
The older son rants, “You never appreciate me! And then you throw a party for that schmuck son of yours!” The father simply says, “You are with me always. Everything I have is yours. But we need to celebrate your brother because it is like he came back to life after dying to us.”
Wait – what?!?
Well, says Jesus. What will you do with God’s mercy? Will you lock yourself out of it because you judge other people as unlovable? Will you return to the pig poop when you have a feast set before you? Will you turn to the loving God, no matter how far off you think you are from him, only to find him running out to you to embrace and love you back into belonging?
Let us pray +
You are forgiveness and belonging itself.
With confession and penance,
Help us turn back to you,
With hope and trust in our hearts.
We pray in the name of the face of mercy, your son Jesus,
In the Holy Spirit of grace and forgiveness,
St Kateri pray for us.