There are several classic Bible stories that almost everyone knows. One of those is the story of the prodigal son – the son that squanders his inheritance and returns home with nothing, humbled.
At the beginning of our lesson, Jesus is sitting with sinners and tax-gatherers. It is interesting to note that Luke brings sinners and tax collectors into the same room. Tax collectors gathered money from people and gave them to the Romans. They were, in essence, traitors, working for the occupying army. But even worse, it was well known that tax collectors often gathered a little extra – who knew exactly what the Romans wanted – to keep for themselves. So at the time, it was not unusual for tax collectors and sinners to be lumped together.
In any case, Jesus was with these people. The Pharisees saw that and wondered why Jesus wasn’t with them. He was a rabbi – a teacher – who everyone knew had a great understanding of scripture. He should have been with the other religious people of his day, discussing these scriptures. But Jesus wasn’t! He was sitting with sinners, having a meal. This made the Pharisees upset, because they didn’t understand why anyone would want to spend time with people that the religious community had marginalised as sinners.
But Jesus had his reasons, and he explained them in his parable. He was there to find the lost children and help them return home.
But the parable wasn’t just about these lost brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. It was just as much directed toward those who had “dutifully” stayed at home.
Because the Pharisees’ attitude was very much like that of the older brother – the one that decided to not leave home with his share; the one that chose to stay home and wait for it all to come to him through his inheritance. The Pharisees did exactly what they were told to do through scripture. They followed every rule to the letter. They obeyed! And like the older brother, they didn’t want to have anything to do with those prodigal children – the “sinners” and “tax collectors” – the outcast and marginalised of society. Their pride got in the way of their compassion.
But they also didn’t do much more than what was expected from them. They had their rules, and they followed them.
And so as they saw their brother return, broken and defeated, and saw how he was welcomed with open arms, they were upset. Their pride was hurt and they got angry. “Why was my brother given a feast? I’M the one that obeys the rules! I’M THE ONE who deserves that feast!”
Which sounds an awful lot like that Prodigal son, doesn’t it – the one who expected his reward NOW, not tomorrow or later in life – but today! And there we see that there really isn’t much difference between the two brothers. Both thought they deserved it all from their father, rather than accepting that their inheritance was a gift from their father.
So, we can’t be like the older brother who was content to sit at home and do exactly what he was supposed to do. And we can’t be like the young brother – the prodigal son – who has wandered away wanting immediate gratification.
The prodigal son learned a valuable lesson. When the hardships began, he realized the error of his ways. He repented, returning to his Father, and was willing to take on a servant’s role in the household. He was willing to serve others rather than be served. The older brother, though, was upset, that he and his friends had never been served.
Even though he had everything coming to him, he wanted more.
Both sons had lost their way, but in two different ways. One had wandered away from his father’s love by losing everything that had been given to him. And the other had wandered away from his father’s love by forgetting what he had.
And both needed the love and compassion that their father wanted to show them. Daily, we as Christians need to remind ourselves that we are not just the prodigal children who need to ask for God’s mercy, but we are also the good children who need to be thankful for everything He has blessed us with.
I like to think that after the older brother spoke with his dad, he, too, realised he’d lost his way, and entered the room and welcomed his lost brother with open arms. Even though his brother was marginalised and an outcast, he welcomed him home as a brother.
We’re called to take stock of the blessings that our Heavenly Father has given us every day; to realise that He has blessed us with plenty, and that our task as believers is not to sit here, separated from the world, but to head out into it and share those blessings. Our brothers and sisters are out there, lost and forgotten, and it’s we who should be out there, too, helping them find their way home. And sometimes, when that lost son or daughter is us, wouldn’t we love if someone came to help us find our way home, too?
None of us are ever beyond God’s reach, and as such, we know that God loves all of us, and through Him – through the gift of Easter of Christ’s life-giving sacrifice on the cross – our Heavenly Father welcomes all those who come home to Him with open arms.