March 21, 2004
The Prodigal Son
(Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
This is one of the greatest stories ever told. Jesus is a genius storyteller
and he tells this parable because the Pharisees and Scribes were mad at
him saying, “This guy eats with sinners.” They were judging
him for not being as holy as them; for violating the Mosaic cleanliness
laws, whereas Jesus obeys the divine law of love and compassion. I thought
we could look at these brothers and see what we can learn from them.
The first thing to recognize is that part of us is like the younger brother
who rejects the father and asks for his inheritance and treats his beloved
father as if he were dead and takes the money and runs away and wastes
his life, but one day, he “comes to his senses” and turns
back to the father.
That’s our story too. Part of us has rejected God, run away from
God, wasted our life in selfish pursuits, and like the prodigal son, we
too are “coming to our senses” and realizing that sin doesn’t
work, that it doesn’t lead to happiness, and that we need to turn
back to God. The prodigal son doesn’t know if his father is going
to welcome him, but he turns back anyway because it is the logical, right
thing to do, and that is what we have to do, to turn back to God, even
if we don’t know the outcome, but just because it’s the logical,
right thing to do.
But the second thing to recognize is that there’s another part of
us that is like the older brother--full of resentment, self-righteousness,
judgment, and anger. We’ve been good all our lives, and we know
it. We’ve followed the rules, helped out at home, done what we’re
supposed to do, minded our own business, not caused any problems, done
our duty, been responsible, and not rocked the boat. We are full of our
virtue, and like the Pharisees, we wish everyone else could be like us.
We look down on others who aren’t as good as us and we resent them.
We’re full of our own self-righteousness. I think Jesus is talking
about the Pharisees and Scribes who think they are better than anyone
else, and that they know who deserves to be welcomed by God, and like
them, we get stuck in the sense of religious obligation and duty and start
judging others and stop being grateful, loving people. But at some point
we learn that God doesn’t play by our rules, that God is much bigger
than us, and that God’s love and compassion is much wider than ours,
and instead of rejoicing that we have such a wonderful God, we act like
three year olds and refuse to go to the party and throw a temper tantrum
and start complaining and yelling.
But this morning I want to suggest that both brothers are wrong. Whether
we are like the sinful younger brother or the resentful, dutiful older
brother, we’re called to become like the compassionate, generous,
Today, Jesus tells us that God is outrageous with love, extravagant with
love, reckless with love for us, like a generous father or a loving mother.
God is on the lookout for us. God can’t wait for us to return home.
God is filled with compassion for us. God wants to throw open his arms
to embrace us. God wants to welcome us home and throw the best party we’ve
every been to in our honor. God wants to put a ring on our finger and
start the music and make a toast and dance for joy because of us. And
if we refuse to come to the party, God is going to seek us out and come
outside and plead with us to come on in. God wants us to celebrate life.
God wants the whole world to live in God’s love and peace and celebrate
Jesus invites us not only to turn back to God, to reject sin and resentment,
to let go of selfishness and our proud virtue, not only to celebrate life
with God, but to become like God, to be extravagant with love for one
another and every human being on the planet, to show great compassion
Yesterday, I spoke to 1000 people at the anti-war rally at the State Capitol
in Santa Fe, as millions marched for peace around the world, trying to
apply this Gospel insight, inviting us as a people to repent of the sin
of war, to let go of our imperial arrogance and self-righteousness, and
to turn back to the God of peace, and to celebrate life with all humanity,
to love everyone in the world, instead of waging war or supporting corporate
greed or bombing our enemies.
What do we learn from this great parable?
- That Jesus welcomes us sinners to his meal and we too must welcome one
another and not write anyone off.
- That like the prodigal son, the younger brother, we must come to our
senses, turn away from sin and turn back to God.
- That like the older brother, we must let go of resentment and anger,
stop being judgmental and self-righteous, and not cling to our own proud
- That God wants to welcome us home with open arms, with infinite compassion,
and throw a great party for all of us.
- And that we too must show compassion to everyone, become grateful,
renounce war and injustice, and celebrate life with one another and
our beloved God, for the rest of our lives.
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