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Jesus and the Prodigal

March 18, 2010

Jesus and the Lost Son
March 11, 2010
Lectionary 2 Cor 5:16-21 & Luke 15:1-32

The parable we heard this morning of the Prodigal Son is told by Jesus in response to the grumblings of the religious leaders about Jesus’ welcoming of and fellowshipping with sinners. In Luke’s gospel it follows two other parables. One tells of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to track down and regain a single sheep that has wondered off. When he finds the sheep he gathers his friends and neighbors and rejoices over the returned sheep. Likewise, Jesus tells a parable about a woman who has lost one of her ten coins. She searches for it, and when she finds it, she also gathers her friends and rejoices in her regained coin. In both of these parables, Jesus compares the rejoicing of the characters to the rejoicing in heaven among God and the angels over each sinner who repents—that is who returns to God.

The Prodigal Son story also focuses on a subject that was lost and is found. In this case, a son leaves his home and father and becomes lost to his family and to himself. When he returns, the father rejoices and celebrates. All three of these parables highlight the joy of God over sinners who are repentant and are reconciled to Him.

The lost sheep and the lost coin are objects that require their owners to search for them, find them and bring them back. Is the Prodigal Son any different, or is he reconciled to his father and home on his own? He does come to himself and decide to return home; however, the welcome and celebration that the lost son experiences certainly depend on the forgiveness, grace and joy of the father. The son’s best hope was to return to his father’s house and be accepted as a servant, even that was in the father’s hands. His only initiative was to come home and confess his transgressions and hope for the best outcome. Against all expectations, norms, rights and duties, the father runs to the son not to scold or punish but to embrace him, love him, restore him and even exalt him to a high place among his household and community.

The lost son had found himself in most miserable conditions. He squandered all he had been given by his father. There was a severe famine that was catastrophic for an agrarian culture. He ends up feeding pigs and desiring to eat with the pigs but being repulsed. He remains hungry and probably half-dressed and without shelter among the pigs. His total condition is shameful and repugnant.

When he comes to himself, he decides “I will arise and go to my father.” And he will confess his sins against his father and against heaven. At this point, his state of being is as a miserable sinner. Is he any more capable of being reunited with his father and home than the dumb sheep that gets lost or the lost coin that is dropped? Can he do it on his own? Can the sinner find his or her own way to the heavenly Father and gain welcome and rejoicing among God and the angels?

Jesus says this, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Even for the sinner who desires to come home to God, it is impossible to gain the reception and reconciliation that the lost son experiences apart from Jesus.

What has Jesus done to become the “way, and the truth, and the life” for us? Imagine if we could elaborate on this parable of the Prodigal Son. We would see Jesus, holy and perfect, coming alongside the lost son in his miserable, shameful condition. On behalf of that lost son, Jesus would allow himself to be arrested, stripped of clothing, beaten, spat upon, bloodied, tried and judged by cruel men and hung naked and beaten upon a cross to die and be buried in a tomb. All this he does for you and me…the lost sons and daughters of our heavenly father. As Paul writes, Jesus, who did not know sin, became sin for our sake. (2 Cor 5.21)

Jesus experienced this separation from the father in his taking of our sin and death. Through his trials, he reveals his desire…to return to his heavenly father. He follows the course of the lost son for us; rather than arising from the figurative pig sty, Jesus emerges from the literal tomb of sin and death—conquering them for all time. Jesus goes home to the father to celebrate his triumph and to prepare the celebration for us who will find our way home to the father through Jesus. God is reconciling us to himself in Jesus.

Jesus shares with his friends and disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus has come from the glory of heaven to take the place of miserable, lost sinners, and he has returned to his father. Through him, we, too, like the lost son, can return to our heavenly father and find him running to embrace us, kiss us, clothe us with heavenly garments and invite us to a celebration that is ongoing even now over every sinner that repents and joins the heavenly family. Paul writes that we become new creations in Christ, born from above in the love and grace of God.

The Lord’s desire is that sinners would repent and return to him. He desires them like the shepherd desires the lost sheep, the woman her lost coin, and like the parent desires his or her lost child. Imagine the embrace of a parent reunited with a beloved child who had been lost. That is God’s welcome to you when you turn to him and come to him.

All of us who have received eternal life through Jesus are going to a heavenly banquet. We are headed to a celebration; a wedding feast in honor of Jesus and the church. Let’s live like people on our way to a great celebration…no anxiety, no fear, no worry or despair. It has pleased the Father to give us the kingdom, so rejoice in the Lord always.

If it seems or feels like you are stuck in the figurative pig sty, know that Jesus has come to you and is present with you to lead you to the Father. Repent of your sins, receive God’s forgiveness and receive the Holy Spirit of Jesus and the Father into your life.

As we have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus, God has given to every one of us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5.18) This is our mission in the world: to reconcile the lost sinners to their heavenly father who loves them.

Come Lord Jesus and take us to be where you are! And in the meantime, come Holy Spirit and fill us with the joy of the heavenly celebration and help us to lead sinners to repentance and reconciliation.

God bless,

Rev. Craig Stephans—Rector
Church of the Redeemer (Anglican)
Camden, NC

O Come, O Holy Spirit, come!
Come as holy fire and burn in us,
Come as holy wind and cleanse us,
Come as holy light and lead us,
Come as holy truth and teach us,
Come as holy forgiveness and free us,
Come as holy love and enfold us,
Come as holy power and enable us,
Come as holy life and dwell in us.
Come, Holy Spirit, and daily increase in us your gifts of grace
Convict us, convert us,
Consecrate us, until we are wholly yours
for your use, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen