The text is part two of “The Sermon on the Plain”, Luke version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. And what this sermon (and last week’s) encourage is what seems to be a specific audience shift in the way Luke presents it. The Sermon on the Plain is to the disciples, or this week specifically to “those who hear.” It may sound strange coming from a Lutheran, but the Law is Good. The Law does have a place in the Christian Life. The deeper question is how does one take that law? And that is what I think Jesus is getting at in Luke’s version. This is the 3rd Use of the Law version of the sermon. And that rule is the rule of grace. The golden rule is to act today, toward your enemies, toward those who won’t pay you back, as the Father and the Son have acted toward us. Do so understanding that you probably don’t get paid back in this world. Which is fine, because as a disciple of Jesus, you are living out of the eternal measure of God.
The text is the prodigal son. Actually the entire 15th Chapter of Luke should be taken together, but the assigned text was just the last of three parables. I struggled this week to find the clarity. Part of that I think was that pastors, especially those who are trying to be orthodox, feel something different from this parable.
The orthodox preacher teaches law and gospel. Both of them have their place. The church since the reformation has been about a specific viewpoint on the gospel. And that viewpoint is neatly captured by the prodigal or by the hymn amazing grace. I once was lost by now am found. The focal point is all on the individual and the God they are being reconciled to. Now what gets taken for granted in that reformation mentality is the whole. The prodigal is reconciled to the family of God. The prodigal is restored to the church. But let’s call it the reformation on steroids, TROS eventually loses the church. What we have is a whole lot of people in churches of one. They have achieved a state they think of as wholeness between them and their god. And then the church attempting to shepherd that person in holiness points out that the law is how God intended things to be. But in TROS the reply is “that’s not my God” or “God didn’t mean that” or some such answer. And the communicant in this church of one, if the true church persists, starts shouting things like Pharisee, or unloving older brother. You just need to accept me, because god has.
That is a completely different order than what the prodigal did. The prodigal may have thought he was returning but keeping his “freedom” – “make me a hired man”. That prodigal at the state wanted to enjoy the benefits of the family while still keeping his little shack just outside and rejecting those parts of the family he didn’t like. But by the time he has arose (a loaded term) and walked the path back and felt the compassion of the father in his embrace that demand or caveat on the repentance is gone. The prodigal submits himself completely to the household.
The question that both sons get asked is this: do you trust the Father’s judgment and ways? Older sons must accept the repentance of prodigals because God has. God works on repentance and absolution. Neither of those does away with the law. What they do is demonstrate that we have all fallen short. But prodigals, those being restored to the whole have to submit to that household. It is not Pharisaical for the church to point out that partial repentance is no repentance at all. In fact that is called Shepherding. (Ezek 33:8-11)
God is about restoring his people, restoring a whole. But we do not define that whole. All we can do is exclude ourselves from it. Do we accept the grace of the Father to be part of his family, or do we stand outside. We can stand outside in a far country. We can stand outside within the walls demanding our way. Both are forms of slavery to our sin. Only in submission and repentance do we find freedom. Do you truth the Father’s ways best revealed in Christ and the cross? The decision is life or death.
The call to be a disciple of Jesus is a call to failure. But it is in that very failure that we find our Hope. The disciple is called to keep the law. We are called to do and teach it. To strive with it. But the disciple knows that is an impossible task. It is a striving against the wind. We are not able to keep the law. That doesn’t mean we get to neglect it or cast aspersions against it. What the law does is instruct us. It points us to the better way. Blessed are the poor in Spirit. God raises up the lowly. The law is not the final word. It points us to God’s final word, Jesus Christ.