Pity the preacher who has a hard time with his sermon this week. These are some of the most powerful and preachable texts in the whole lectionary cycle. Isaiah 12 is simply beautiful and Paul’s Christological hymn has a sermon in every line. But who can pass up the parable of the prodigal son? As I note within the notes, the late Robert Capon thought this parable misnamed. It should be the parable of the forgiving father. Or the parable of the unforgiving elder brother. Or, Capon’s favorite, the parable of the tatted calf who died so everyone could have a feast. Whatever you call it, this parable by Jesus is perhaps one of the most enduring and powerful pieces of literature ever produced. Of course, we should not be surprised. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the inventor of all languages and communication.
What I love about this parable is that it is unfinished. The father stands outside the house, pleading with the elder brother to come in and join the celebration, but we do not hear what the elder brother does. Does he go in? Does he turn away in a pout? The fact that Jesus is addressing the scribes and pharisees who are standing on the edge of the audience is simply genius on Jesus’ part and inspired by Luke as he gives this to us. The unfinished nature of the parable means that it is always contemporary. Jesus stands there, as long as this story is heard, with his arm outstretched to pharisees of every generation. He is urging us to lose our sense of scandal at God’s prodigal love.