Fourth Sunday in Lent – Series C
We consider what is perhaps one of the most familiar portions of the Bible. This parable of the Prodigal Son grips us today. Have a care that its familiarity does not dull our senses. In fact, so often we have heard this story and it almost stops at the prodigal. We get all teary-eyed at the embrace of the father for his run-away son. But the elder brother probably needs to be more prominent. He is right, you know, that older brother. Everything he says is right. The younger brother has been a wretched man, squandered his father’s wealth. It seems so unfair. Is not one day of service better than the months of debauchery by the younger brother? But the older brother gets no party. You can serve on the altar guild for 40 years and hardly anyone notices. Simple justice, common sense, and moral indignation suggest that the father should be listening to the elder son. But the Father has another authority, the authority which Jesus’ death and resurrection has wrought, the authority to forgive. The parable ends with the father pleading for the elder brother to come in. Back out a step and look at the whole scene and we see Jesus, the parable teller, hands extended to the judgmental pharisees and scribes, begging them to join the sinners and tax collectors at his feet. Luke does not tell us whether they came in or not. The unfinished nature of the parable is a genius literary device. It contemporizes this parable. Jesus is still standing there with his hands outstretched to us as well. Will we come into the circle? Or will with stand outside the heavenly celebration with arms folded, demanding what is fair? Jesus has the authority to forgive, but it is scandalous. He forgives even the people we would not see forgiven. If we would enjoy forgiveness for ourselves, we must relinquish control over that forgiveness. That authority belongs to the forgiver, not to the forgiven.