These are notes, as the sermon was not fully written out.
Funeral good friend. He had two sons. Refused to talk to each other’
Blessed with the best set of brothers and sister that anyone could wish for but even between us there have been moments….
Ever since Cain and Abel stories of fraternal conflicts have abounded.
Perhaps that is why the story of the prodigal is so popular. Almost all of us know of stories of the son who made good and the son whose life was a disaster, the faithful son who cared for his parent and the boy who broke his mother’s heart, the brother who prospered and the one who was a failure.
Jesus could be sure of his listeners if he used this theme. They would all be interested. They might even try to identify the family.
But why would Jesus want that? Who was he trying to instruct, What was he trying to say?
Look at the story he told:
There was a man with two sons. The man loved his sons and lavished his generosity on them. Some might say he was too generous – that he spoiled his sons. But it was a generosity beyond the comprehension of those who heard the story. How could anyone be so foolish as to give such a fortune to a young man.
The young man didn’t know how to deal wisely with such a fortune. He indulged all his desires, he brought himself to ruin.
The father loved the other son too and shared all his remaining fortune with him. He was a good lad and he worked hard for his father but he had not learned how to use his money well either. If he had followed his father’s example he would have learned to be generous he might even have sought to redeem his brother. He might at least have sympathised with a father who had lost a son that he loved.
Now at least three groups heard this story. Tax-collectors and sinners eager to listen to Jesus, Pharisees and scribes who despised the other group and were happy to have an excuse to criticise Jesus and the third group were the disciples.
Jesus comes with the Good News of the Kingdom – the kingdom where God’s love and generosity could bring peace to the world and heal the lives of men and women damaged a corrupted by sin. The younger son stands for such people. Yes – it was his own choice that lead him to such a state but God desires that we all should turn and live. The older brother happy with his own close relationship with his father does not want to welcome back a brother who doesn’t deserve all this. The Pharisees, the holy people of Judaism are smug in their observance of the law. They deserve their place in the Kingdom.
Jesus is telling the story for all three groups. He wants to melt the stoney hearts of the established religion and he wants the tax-collectors and sinners know that they can change into the best robe and the ring to cover their nakedness and to know love and peace. To the disciples he is already their teacher – they are the learners, the mathetes who will soon become the apostles and prophets on which the Kingdom will stand. Jesus wanted them to learn true generosity that seeks for the lost and welcomes all who would see Jesus. They were to learn from the sinner’s needs and lostness. They were to learn from the Pharisees about hardness of heart, about hypocrisy.
Sisters and brothers these three groups are our ancestors. We are the Mathetes. The learners but we are also sinners and we are the self-righteous. Jesus still teaches us that there is that there is no room for sin in the kingdom but neither is there any place for bigotry, exclusiveness, witch-hunts, anathemas or party spirit. Our father loves all his children – not just Christians> Christians have a vocation to make that love and that generosity know. Out on the mountain the sheep is lost , frightened , hungry wounded. We need to go out and feed and tend. The Prodigal wants to come home – we need to go out and meet him.