Meditation on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Pastor Karen Crawford
March 27, 2022
Link to Recording of our Livestreamed service with message: https://fb.watch/c0uARezgZc/
Some of you already know why our household is in chaos. Jim brought home a puppy on Friday. Rory is a poodle. His little round body is covered with soft, golden/reddish curls.
Some of you have asked, “How are the cats getting along with the puppy?”
Well, it’s going to take some time for them to get used to each other.
This is what Liam looked like yesterday when he saw the puppy coming near him.
He was making low growling sounds in his throat.
What does the puppy think about the cats? He wants to play with them or cuddle up with them, like he does with Jim and me. Kind of reminds me of Garfield and Odie. Odie looks at Garfield and Garfield says, “Go away, Odie, you bother me.”Two panels pass by with nothing happening. And then in the fourth panel, Odie is hugging Garfield. And the cat is saying, “I guess I asked for that.”
Liam seems to be more demanding of my attention, biting my fingers when I am typing, constantly trying to climb in my lap. He’s feeling insecure, wondering why I pay any attention to that other horrible creature Jim brought home.
He’s worried that he might lose his status in the household—if he is still my favorite fur creature. He is!
The Prodigal Son in the gospel of Luke is one of Christ’s most powerful parables. We can all identify with the characters and this ancient story because we all live in families and every family has its troubles.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details without staying focused on why Jesus tells this story. This is Christ’s answer to a complaint by the Pharisees and the scribes who say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They say this right after they see all the tax collectors and sinners coming near to listen to him. He isn’t just eating with the outcasts and scoundrels of their society. He is empowering them with God’s love and forgiveness for them.
The purpose of the story is to teach the Pharisees, scribes, and disciples of Jesus in every time about the lavish and outrageous love of God for sinners—all people, even the ones whom we might find difficult to like, let alone love.
Here are a few key points from the parable.
- Don’t miss the part about the younger son demanding his inheritance from his father while living. This is the most insulting and hurtful thing for a son in that culture to do. Essentially, he is saying that he wants his father dead!
- The prodigal spends the inheritance on what would bring shame to himself and his family. I looked up “dissolute living” and found this definition, “living in a way that other people strongly disapprove of.” So, we can use our imagination.
- When all the money runs out, AND there’s a famine in the land and the whole country is plunged into an economic and humanitarian crisis, this may be the first time this man has ever had to go without and find a job. Verse 14 says, “he began to be in need.” Living in a foreign country, he wouldn’t be eligible for any of the benefits of citizens. He hires himself out for the only job open to him—feeding pigs. He’s Jewish and he’s feeding pigs! He has left both family and faith behind and is living as a Gentile, which would have been the most sinful thing anyone could do, in the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes.
- Finally, he has a moment of clarity. His father’s hired hands have bread to spare and are eating better than he is working for Gentiles. In fact, the pigs are eating better than he is.
Whether he actually feels remorse for what he is done is debatable. Does he really have a change of heart? For he even rehearses what he is going to say to his father when he gets home, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”
Verse 17 says, “When he came to himself,” as if he finally remembered who he was—his family and the life he threw away. Maybe he does have a moment of regret for the terrible choices he has made. Or maybe he realizes how lost he really is. How far from home he has gone.
When I say home, I mean it on a spiritual level—more than just a place to live. You follow me?
Theologian Henri Nouwen writes in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, “leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to a time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows. Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has ‘fashioned me in secret, moulded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb.’ Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.” (37)
Psalm 90 verse 1 assures us: “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home.” And Jesus says in John 14:23, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
Whenever we hear this parable, we can’t help but see ourselves. Many of Christ’s followers, who have grown up in the church, can’t remember a time when they didn’t identity as Christians. They may see themselves as the older son who is shocked and bitter when the younger son returns and is not only welcomed but is celebrated by the entire community. The older son of the story seems jealous and resentful—perhaps worried that he has lost his favored status in the household.
Those of us who have had more dramatic conversion experiences understand exactly what the writer of Amazing Grace was talking about when we sing,“I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind and now I see.” We are the prodigals who are grateful every single day that we serve a God who will never stop running out to greet us with open arms and welcome us home.
Nouwen had a surprising vision of the true prodigal son while he was meditating on the Rembrandt painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. He was Jesus!
Nouwen says. “He left the house of his Heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God. Jesus, who told the story to those who criticized him for associating with sinners, himself lived the long and painful journey that he describes….
Isn’t the broken young man kneeling before his father ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?’ Isn’t he the innocent one who became sin for us? Isn’t he the one who didn’t ‘cling to his equality with God, but as human beings are? Isn’t he the Son of God who cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus is the prodigal son of the prodigal Father who gave away everything the Father had entrusted to him so that I could become like him and return with him to his Father’s house.” – Henri Nouwen (55-56)
I believe the most important message of the Prodigal Son is that God loves both sons—the elder and the younger. He doesn’t hold any of their sins against them. God loved the Pharisees and the scribes as much as he loved the outcasts and scoundrels with whom Jesus was always eating and drinking.
Friends, I find myself struggling for the right words to share with you some important news. I will follow up with a letter so that everyone in the church knows what’s going on.
I have accepted a new call to ministry. I will be here with you through Easter. I will be serving, as of May 1, a Presbyterian congregation in New York where we will be closer to family. Jim and I have made this decision carefully and prayerfully, considering our needs of this season of our lives—and anticipating seasons to come.
I have loved serving as your pastor. I am happy here. You have brought me joy and peace. I will always cherish our friendship. I will remember you. I won’t forget!
We will have time for personal goodbyes. We will take time to grieve together—and encourage one another. I will continue to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would guide, protect and bless you when I am not with you in person. And that the Lord would provide for all our needs.
We still have time to make memories together, share stories, dream dreams, sing, laugh, hug, eat, pray, and break bread at the Lord’s Table. I will keep on sharing the gospel with you and telling you the stories of God.
The Prodigal Son teaches us that every day, we have choices to make. One choice can lead to another, so make it a good one! Things don’t just happen randomly, and they don’t happen to passive people who just sit back—like Ron Geese taught us. We aren’t called to be spectators or commentators. We are to be sweet taters, showing our love for God and neighbor and revealing the Kingdom of God with kindness!
And if we wander to a far-off country in thought, word or deed and somehow forget our gratitude for all God has done and the many promises in His Word, let us be reminded that God loves the elder and the younger son. God loves everyone.
Come home, beloved ones!
Every day is a new day, with God’s mercies new every morning. Every day, every moment, we have another chance to come to ourselves—realize that we are new Creations in Jesus Christ—and take another step forward, trusting in him. Clinging to him!
No matter where we go, we will always have a home. For God has come to make his home with us—and we with him.
You are NOT lost. For this fellow named Jesus came to welcome sinners and eat with them and give his life for all.
You are found!
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the hope we find in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, hope for your love and forgiveness, just the way we are, because of what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. We welcome you to come and make your home with us and we with you. Comfort us in our grief. Help us to always see the good in what happens in our lives—and to know your will. Keep us walking the path you want us to take, but if we ever wander off to a far country, please guide our hearts and minds back home again. Be with us always, Lord, as you promise. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, we pray. Amen.