As a part of our homiletical theory class, we need to deliver a 3 minute mini sermon. Comments are invited:
But now, he’s broke; credit cards are max-ed out; he’s been evicted; no wants to hire him with his criminal record; all of his “friends” have moved on; he’s HIV-positive. He dives in dumpsters for food and catches a day labor job when he can.
“Maybe my old man will put me up for awhile-I’ll see what I can get out of the family.”
This is what he thinks as he starts hitching home.
“I’ll tell him I’m sorry”
But somewhere along the way, he really believes it. Home is the one place they will still love me- even now. “Forgive me!”
His Dad gets a call from the neighbor who swears he saw the kid hitching on the Turnpike at the last interchange. And the father jumps in his car and takes off to find him. Even now- even after the son stole the family’s Social Security numbers and ran up debt.
For one simple reason he goes- compassion. Not just love, or pity. Not mere sympathy or even yearning, but deep down, melt your heart , raw emotion in your gut, in your very being- compassion. The father loses himself to compassion for this flesh of his flesh- “This is my son!”
Compassion fuels the process of restoration. The son is embraced again, not after a period of reintroduction, restitution and passing litmus tests; not after ritual purification and works of righteousness , but NOW.
The Greek word for compassion is used six times in the New Testament, each in a similar way. Compassion and healing of wounds; compassion and caring for the distressed; compassion and raising the dead.
And this son was by all rights “ dead” because of the separation. He was lost, ruined and without life. Jesus will go on in Luke Chapter 19 to state that the Son of Man has come to reclaim just such people. Not by teaching in the temple to the worthy, but by seeking out the lost, and sharing among them and living in their midst.
What of the “lost” in our world? Often they are those who have made really bad decisions; those who are hard to love or even scary to be around. But, coming back to our text, I wonder if there is a reason the parable stops short of wrapping up the story of the older brother. The one who has remained faithful in the family; who is angered by the lavish party.
It can be easy to feel like him. “Why should my money support the welfare mom who just keeps having kids?” “Why do I care about the immigrant, or any of these others?” “What is there to love about these?” “They’ve made their bed – they can lie in it!” “Let them follow the rules like I do!”
Hear again the Father: “Rejoice with me! Your brother was lost and now is found! Come to the celebration- be a part of the restoration!”
We don’t know if the older brother joins the party or not. What we do know is that God loved us and had compassion for us to the extent that the Son was sent to run out and meet us. Even though all of the “older brothers” grumbled at the ridiculousness of it all. God lost all sense and sought us out anyway. Later in the New Testament, the disciples are commissioned to carry on this ministry- seeking out the lost and proclaiming the message of grace, mercy and forgiveness. And God is seeking still.
SO who are we? Lost ones found? For sure
Angry older brothers and sisters? Let’s hope not. For just as we are beloved children of God, so are all of our lost brother and sisters. We need to ask- what kind of family does God call us to be?