The text is possibly the most famous biblical text of all time, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. But there is a problem with that. There is also 2000 years of piety around the text. Sometimes piety is a great thing. Most times. It usually is a virtue and prevents us doing something really stupid. But occasionally piety gets in the way of an authentic meditation on a text. We can’t hear or imagine the text because of everything else around it. This sermon attempts that meditation. These texts are not about about repentance, not really. They aren’t about sorting into prodigal and elders. They aren’t about spurring us on to greater feats of piety. They are a picture of God. The God who does come for us. The God who does clean us. The God who welcomes us back to the household. The God who wants only sons. (Not excluding daughters here, but the God who wants only members of the household, not hired men. And households don’t operate on the law. Households live on grace.
The assigned lectionary text for today was the parable of the Prodigal Son, but one of the things that I found out in preparation is that the church fathers never really treated the prodigal separately from the two parables preceeding it. And when you do the translation, they do seem to roll together with specific roles for a point. So, this sermon attempts to address these parables as the church fathers did.
We’ve focused on the theme of division in Lent so far, but Luke 15 turns that focus around. It assumes the division, and starts portraying reunion. THe question these parables focus on to the church fathers was not evangelism or restoring a wandering brother. That is a valid moral lesson. We are the body of Christ and have those responsibilities. But instead, these parables were about God’s action on behalf of his elect. The perfect number will not be broken. There will not be 99 sheep, or 9 coins, or 1 brother. God will gather all of the elect no matter where they find themselves and through whatever troubles.
And how God does this is first through the good shepherd who has carried us on his shoulders on that cross. Then he calls, gathers and enlightens us through the church – the woman with a lamp looking for that coin with the image of the King. And the purpose of this is to reunite us with the Father. All that the Father has is ours. That doesn’t change regardless of our actions. He has chosen to give us the Kingdom. It is just necessary that we come in and rejoice.