Luke 15: 11-32


(c) Copyright 1987 Rev. Bill Versteeg

The following sermon should be read dramatically, in the first person. It fits well on the occasion of communion.

Luke 15:11-32

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he 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.

21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (NIV)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning I tell you the prodical's parable.

My older brother was always the good guy, he was the faithful one, he did what dad told him -sometimes with a snarl on his lips, but he did it and dad seemed satisfied with that.

I was much more of a "free spirit", the black sheep, I wanted to do my own thing. A challenge was one of the few things that motivated me. If it was new, fresh, novel, something that I had to learn, I would put my best efforts into it. But once it had been tried and successfully accomplished, it was boring and my thoughts and heart turned to other things.

That irritated dad!

He would send us both out into the field to stack sheaves. After three - boredom would set in, after six, my heart was not in it, I seldom reached ten. Dad was never satisfied with my work, Even my best displeased him, and my unfinished work infuriated him.

He told me he loved me, that his love was real but I felt it in wounds more than in hugs in discipline more than play. And I hated that!

As teenage approached, I grew to despise his expressions of love as much as I dreaded his correcting hand.

That's why becoming a teenager was paradise for me. In becoming a teenager, I became a bar mitzvah. That meant I became a "son of the law", progressively more responsible to the Torah than to my father. It meant that he was losing the right to use the whip. By age 18, I was fully bar mitzvah, I was responsible only to the Law. Dad, effectively, could go stuff it. Regardless to say, my relationship with dad wasn't much to boast about.

By age 18 my hatred and distaste for boring repetitious manual farm labour had grown to a passion, I hated the farm and Dad knew it.

When I asked him for my third of the inheritance (my brother was going to get 2/3s) it came as no surprise to him. My dream was to start a challenging merchant business in town, buying, selling, making a buck quickly facing new challenges every day. Dad knew my dream. He also knew I would need the capital to do it. I begged, I pressured, I manipulated, finally he said he would consider it seriously.

Dad went and talked to our religious advisor, a wise man the most holy Rabbi, Master Sir Zacharius a pharisee, brother of Gamaliel he was quick to council and quote from the book of Ecclesiasticus

"Do not grant a child his inheritance while you still walk this earth, for he may turn away and leave you hungry."

That was the first foolish thing my dad did... he didn't listen to the pharisee. He gave me my third, I went to the city and I tried business. In the first few days I met with quick success. But it didn't take more than a month for me to get bored with this wheeling and dealing. I craved something more than success, an unending challenge that success could not give me. That Friday I closed my last transaction went home to the farm and began to pack my bags.

Dad noticed my bag he saw my intent and then he reminded me of the fifth.

"Honor your Father and your Mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you."

In my situation, that 5th Law was very practical. It meant that even though I had received my inheritance from my Father, I could only stewardly keep it and manage it while my Father still live. I was to care for my Father in his old age and in that way honor him. I couldn't spend it any way I want to. Dad reminded me, even though I had it, the Law forbid me to use it for myself.

My reaction to dad was quick, even brutal.

"Stuff it dad!

If you would have used your head you wouldn't have given it to me in the first place. I'm a bar mitzvah now and you can't do anything about it. Besides, I'm going to another country where that law doesn't apply. I hate this farm. I hate your laws. I hate you!"

His eyes changed there. They were usually bright, filled with hope. They turned dull, silent as if death had set in under his wrinkled forehead. All my murderous wishes had become a reality in his eyes.

I kicked the lentil hard. I hated everything, including myself. I stomped out with my sore toe. Looking back was not an option. I had severed all the ties.

That first night I travelled as far as my legs could carry me. I was out of the house of bondage, free... free... free at last. The next months were great absolutely great. Anything my heart desired - I could do- whenever and however I wished!

NO MORE DAD! NO MORE LAW! - it was great! No one can tell me this world doesn't have a whole lot to offer! In that distant country I set up business again, it was moderate, not great but then again, it was only a sideline. Way over there I discovered something. I discovered "money is power" and I had lots of it. Relationships and friendships came easy. My money seeded to attract friends out of the wood work, and they all seemed to have the same attitude toward life - a challenge, something exciting, a good time! Luxuries I'd never dreamed of at home walked right to my front door to be bought - and I had the money to buy them. Friends, women, wine, the two mixed real good! I spent most of my time with these partners. I spent the rest of my time recovering from them. I slowly forgot about business. I learned to live the continuous challenge of delirium and recovery.

I learned another thing. Life consumes money - specially my kind of life. It swallowed years of wages in 18 months. Soon when I grabbed for my money, I grasped only the cloth at the bottom of my purse. I tried to start up my business again but it didn't have the capital to buy. No one trusted me enough to make me a loan.

I started coming to my senses. I had no choice - I couldn't buy the wine to numb them any more!

I started seeing myself. Once delightfully rich, now I was pitifully poor. The many friends and relationships the power of money had bought me needed the power of money to be maintained. I had none. They dropped me like a used cigarette, its contents consumed, thrown to the dirt to be stepped on, snuffed out, they dropped me.

I went to an old business acquaintance, a farmer, and asked him if he had any work for me. He said he wasn't interested in hiring a derelict Jew. I begged him. My hunger drove me to my knees.

"Go feed the pigs!" he said. He wanted to get rid of me, so he gave me the dirtiest, most in-human, demeaning job on the whole farm - hoping that I would do it less than an hour and then leave. I fed those pigs for days, he gave me no food, no wages, - he used me. I was a shoeless slave in a distant country unable to protect or care for myself. The food I fed the pigs I could not take for myself, for a slave who stole faced the death penalty.

I could not stay famine, poverty, bad reputation made it impossible.

I could not go home. I had wished my father dead. I had openly disowned him and his god. I had gone to a gentile rather than my own family for help, now dad would certainly disown me. I had fed pigs to dad they were the abode of the devil. It would only be his righteous, wise and religious duty to avoid me at all costs.

"Have nothing to do with the uncouth, unclean and contemptible." That's what Rabbi Zacharius would say. This time my Father would surly listen.

Yes, I came to my senses. I could no longer numb them. I could not avoid them. They screamed at me. The people around me wanted me dead. My father would certainly have nothing to do with me. There was only one option left - an unlikely one, but the only one. Become on of my Father's slaves - they were always well fed. Maybe if I went home and said "sorry", he would give me just a chance to be a hard working farm slave, doing hard manual, repetitious labour. It was the only option I had.

Those days walking home were days of terror. My mind raced. My father would never accept me. He would be a fool to hire me as his servant. I was scum to be avoided. If the pharisees did not stone me before I got home, they would certainly insure a destitute future for me. I practiced, rehearsed in my mind everything I was going to say. It was memorized...

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired men."

I had a million visions os his response. "What do you take me for - a fool!? You have squandered your inheritance, you have called me dead before God. You have forsaken the law to which you were committed bar mitzvah. Now do you expect me to take such rebellion back as a hired slave - forget it! It's not only foolish, it's a bad investment."

He would be right - I would have no response, not argument, He would be so very right!

Or maybe I would make it to the door - I would enter to find Zacharius making one of his "pastoral" visits - and they would smell the pigs on me. Zacharius would ban my entire family from the synagogue. Even dad would become an object of scorn among his brothers because a son who smelled like unclean pigs had come in the door.

I even had visions of dad stoning me. He had the right to do so. The law said that anyone cursing his parents was to be put to death. (Lev 20:9) The Lord knows how often I had cursed dad.

As I came closer to home. I practiced it again and again. Memorized my apology so that every pause, every tone would be perfect.

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired men."

I practiced again and again, It had to be perfect.

From the depths of concentration, I lifted my head to check my direction... I saw a vision not possible. It was my father... running - running like an over dressed olympian to me... for me... My Father - running! Oh my foolish Father! If Zacharius saw him, he would be instantly branded a fool. Only fools ran. Wise men only walked in measured slow steps. You knew what a man was by the way he walked.

My foolish Father did not stop! He caught me. He kissed me... and hugged me, and hugged me and kissed me, and kissed me and hugged me - me... with pig manure on my feet, me... with the brew of demons on my soul.

What foolish love is this! If the pharisees caught wind of this, as they certainly would, he would loose his status as elder in the synagogue. He would be ostracized, unclean, sneered at by the people because he touched me, he even kissed and hugged me. An elder should never show such emotion. He forgave a sone who smelled like swine.

My cheeks were wet - from his tears, not mine. I began to blurt out my rehearsed - stunned - apology...

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you,

I am no longer worthy to be called your son---

I could not finish. I was interrupted.

"Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Make him the honored guest of the house. Let his fragrance fill every nook and cranny of our home for my son who was lost has been found."

"But... But..."

"And put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Let him know he is my son and nothing less. Give him the seal of sonship with my signet right. Put shoes on his feet for he is my free son, not a barefoot slave! My Son who was dead is alive again!"

My protests went unheard.

What wondrous love is this Oh my Soul, O my Soul. What wondrous love is this Oh my Soul.

My foolish Father, Oh how my foolish Father Welcomed me. He cleaned me, he dressed me, now he set me down to a feast second to none. He celebrates my return, but for me this feast is a celebration of his love - his foolish kind of love. For the first time - I think I've come to know it. My worst could not outdo his best. My hatred could not exhaust his love. My rebellion could not outstrip his forgiveness.

I was the one who called him dead, He is the one who has given me life.

I was the one who made him a fool, his foolish love made me a son - again - a valued, loved and cared for son. The love that cost him so much was my infinite gain... Amazing love, - Amazing - by everyone's standard - foolish - except his! Truly the wisdom of my Father is foolishness to this world.

My foolish Father welcomed me! Now I taste, I know my Father's love. His love is better than life, and nothing will every again separate me from it - that's what I celebrate, that's the banquet before me.

Yet something confuses me. It's my brother - you know - the good guy. Rabbi Zacharius thinks he's potential pharisee material. I can understand how my brother is angry at me - he wants justice. But I can't understand this. Now he refuses to celebrate my Father's love because to celebrate my Father's love is to welcome me! Dad pleaded with him. He refuses to come to the banquet - he's to troubled right now. This is puzzling because he has always done everything

right, but now I hear he wants to use his inheritance for his friends his own way. Sounds like me 18 months ago. I hear he yelled at dad, and didn't treat him with respect. Sounds like me 18 months ago. And all this time I thought the prodigal son was me...

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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