Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
O God, Illumine these scriptures for us, help us to find meaning for a new day in these ancient words. May the words and mediations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Let me draw your attention to the insert in the bulletin. I have used these question categories in the past for small group Bible study.
Informational questions are answered by simply reading the text and giving a literal answer. Analytical questions require more thought about the meanings behind what is being told in the story. Background study of the text and interpretative tools such as commentaries can be helpful here. Personalized questions bring the story to life by placing us in the midst of it. This is where application can be at its finest, and often goes overlooked. This week I invite you to explore some of these questions with me; this morning we will use them with Luke’s gospel.
“Who is the son?” Most of us will immediately glance at the passage and identify the younger son, the prodigal who leaves with his father’s inheritance and spends it in wild living. That is one informational answer right from the book.
If we ask that same question with a bit more background for analysis, it brings in a new layer of understanding. In the time and place during which this story was told asking for your inheritance while your father is still living would be a social and cultural slap in the face, showing very little respect; in effect saying, “You are no use to me alive, just die so I can get my money.”
Ooh, ouch! Would anyone like to offer a prayer right about now? How about, “O Lord, let my children love me just a little bit more than that, please!”
But that is not all. Personalizing the question would ask this: How like the younger sibling might our own actions be today? Am I that son-or daughter? Are you? Do I have a child like this? Do you? Is there someone else in my family that would fill this role? In yours? These three stage questions certainly changes the story a bit for me.
I wonder, what do you suppose the relationship between the brothers was like? In verse 30, the older brother addresses his father and says: “This son of yours….” One commentator says this statement is an indication of the son’s view of his little brother, and claims the older brother’s hatred was so bitter that he no longer considers the younger son a brother. But what was it like before the younger son left? At what point did the older brother turn away and reject him? More importantly, perhaps, at what point do we reject others different from ourselves? Have we ever become like the older son?
Upon the younger son’s return we see that the older brother becomes angry- perhaps there are two or tree reasons behind that anger. One, perhaps he is angry because he never got a party. The text does support that. Two, perhaps he is angry because of the waste of the younger brother’s inheritance; something along the lines of, “How could he do that to us?” The text also supports this interpretation.
But remember, this is a parable. Jesus was telling this story to illustrate a point. Let us focus on the father figure for just a moment. What character traits of the father do we find in the text? First of all, he still considers both brothers his sons. In regards to the older son, in verse 31 he says, “All I have is yours.” Clearly, the father loves his older son. What about the younger son?
How can we know the extent of the father’s love for the younger son? When the younger son comes and demands his share of the estate, he gets it. Also, when the son returns, the father runs to greet him. Those are straight answers from the text.
Digging deeper, what would motivate the father to go along with his younger son’s scheme in the first place? Do you suppose the father sees straight through him? Does the father perhaps already know that this younger son must experience the world and all it holds before he can accept – or even recognize, perhaps, the warmth, provision, and love of his own family? Or even love at all?
In verse 20 we read, “But while he (meaning the younger son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
To be gazing in the direction the younger son had gone at all is to show amazing parental love, especially when the son in question lives his life despising his father and familial upbringing. This story has many layers. And yet, the father was gazing in the direction his son had gone, and saw him from afar. Then, when he does see his son returning home, he gets up and runs to him and kisses him. Commentators refer to the father figure as a symbol for God in the story. So let’s take the ultimate step: let’s personalize it.
Today let us wonder and ask: what is a parent to do with a child who does not respect him or her, and reaches eagerly for the things of the world beyond his or her home and hearth? Perhaps some of us are familiar with this tension, either as a parent; or perhaps from our own history. It might begin with something off-limits which becomes all too alluring on that journey to discover ourselves separate from our parent; then whatever it is becomes a negative habit or possibly even a self-destructive tendency.
Do you suppose God sees straight through us? All the time no matter what we do or say, what is God’s response to us? To my own eyes, the story is proof positive of the unconditional love of God. How often do we long for such acceptance and love? Friends, believe the good news of the Gospel, in Jesus Christ, God is running to us.
Let us pray: O God, we are your prodigals, sons and daughters adopted by you through Christ our Saving One. Help us come to our senses, that we might turn back to you and journey home. Help us lift our eyes up and see you running toward us with your arms outstretched and tears in your eyes. Help us know we are yours. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
In what ways am I like the prodigal son? In what ways am I like the elder son? How might I better embody the grace of the father?
Household Prayer: Morning
Loving God, in all I do this day, use me as a sign of your reconciling love. Let me not view anyone from a human point of view, but let me see all whom I will encounter with the eyes of Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Merciful God, if like the Prodigal Son I have strayed from you this day, call me back to your loving embrace. If like the elder son, I have harbored resentment for the grace you give to others, reprove me. Help me claim in thought and deed the inheritance of the saints who share with Jesus compassion and forgiveness to all who lose their way. Amen.