In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
They Don’t Understand
“Now tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.””
The Pharisees and scribes did not understand Jesus. They saw Jesus with people they thought of as sinners who had lost their chance to be in the kingdom of God. They were as good as dead to them. Why would Jesus receive sinners?
Why would he share a meal with them? Certainly Jesus should reject them and send them on their way. If they did not understand Jesus, then certainly they did not understand the heavenly Father. This is the context in which Jesus told the parable of the father who had two sons.
We know the story well, perhaps so well that we do not always hear the words of Jesus in the context of our own lives. Let’s listen again.
A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, “Give me the share of property that is coming to me.” The son was not asking for an allowance or something he had earned. He was not asking for an early birthday present. The son was asking for his inheritance.
He did not want to work with his brother in his father’s business. The son did not want to live in his father’s house. He wanted to leave. The son was treating his father as if he were already dead. He wanted money instead of a father. He wanted freedom from his responsibilities to his family and neighbors.
The father had every right to disown his son and to give him nothing. But the father did the unexpected, he gave his son his inheritance. Not only did the father do something unexpected, he did something that would have shocked the community. Some would say the father’s action bordered on insanity. Certainly, this was a father unlike any other fathers.
The son left his father, his family, and his neighbors to go and live by his own rules. We read that “He squandered his property in reckless living.” When his money was gone, his life became miserable. He was lost in a foreign place and desperate.
The son decided to go home and say to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.”
What happens next is again unexpected. “While [the son] was still a long way off the father saw him and felt compassion for his son. The father ran and embraced his son and kissed him.”
What a display of unexpected and undeserved love? Remember, the son had not yet said a word before the father ran, embraced, and kissed his son. The father did not wait for his son to come and grovel but he ran out to embrace him and to welcomed his son home.
“[He] said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate.”
This parable is a picture of God’s grace. God cares about each person. He goes to each one who is lost seeking to restore them into his family. The grace of God is not just the unexpected but it is the underserved and unconditional. God does not show his grace because of any merit or worthiness, not because it is deserved but because it is needed.
Jesus received tax collectors and sinners because they were in need. Jesus came to them because they were lost and condemned. He had compassion on them because they were as good as dead. Jesus told them about God’s grace. He called them to repent.
Jesus came to cover their sins with his best robe, the robe of his own righteousness. He eat with them as a foretaste of his Holy Supper and the eternal feast to come. He came to reconcile them to the Father and to restore them to a new life.
The grace of Jesus Christ showed no limit. His love for the lost took him all the way to the cross where he received the curse of the law. He was declared guilt of our sin and therefore to be forsaken by his father.
Jesus showed no regret, he carried no grudge. He died for all. Jesus died for the tax collectors and sinners. He rejoices that they are coming to him to receive God’s grace through the forgiveness of their sins.
I pray that this picture of a gracious God gives you comfort and strength in your role as the younger son, the tax collectors and sinners. For the times when you squandered the blessings God gave you in reckless living may this parable be good news. May you know that through Jesus Christ you have been restored into the family of God with your sins forgiven and forever forgotten by the Father.
The Older Son
Now I must speak to you in your role as the older son, as the Pharisees who grumbled against Jesus, as the regular church attender and all round good person in the eyes of the world.
The older son came in from the field and heard the celebration. When he found out that it was a celebration for his sinful brother, “he was angry and refused to go in.” The older son refused to rejoice with his father.
He refused to accept that his father could be gracious and merciful. The older son did not care that his brother was alive and once again part of the family. He did not forgive the one who had trespassed against him.
While the older son was outside pouting and feeling sorrow for himself, while he was badmouthing his father for receiving his brother home and eating with him, while he was disgracing his father by his stubbornness and his refusal to rejoice, the father did the unexpected.
The father now left the celebration to show compassion to his older son. “His father came out and entreated him” to join in the celebration. The father said to his son, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The father had all along loved his older son. He had never neglected him or treated him as anything but an heir.
Pharisees and Scribes
The Pharisees and scribes were angry with Jesus for showing compassion on those who because of their past behavior did not deserve his attention. They were angry that he did not acknowledge their years of doing what they thought was right. They did not see their need for God’s grace.
Jesus did the unexpected for them, for every older son, and for you. He went to Jerusalem. Jesus spread out his arms and allowed them to be nailed to a cross. Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father, “Father forgiven them.”
Today’s story is not so much about two sons. It is not so much about tax collectors, sinners, and Pharisees. Today’s story is about a gracious, merciful, and compassionate father who has given you and me blessings upon blessings.
Today’s story is about our selfishness and ungratefulness. It is about our desire to live according to our own rules and about our thinking that we are better than others. Today’s story is about sinners, you and me, who on our own are lost and condemned.
It is about our disobeying our parents, it’s about our lack of love for our siblings, it’s about being poor stewards of the blessings we have, it’s about living a lifestyle that is displeasing to God, it’s about thinking we deserve salvation because we have been so good.
About The Father and the Son
Most importantly, the story that Jesus told is about a Father who does the unexpected. That is what Jesus wanted those around him to hear and what he wants you to hear. You have a Father who gave his Son as a sacrifice for you so that your sins are forgiven.
You have a Father who while you were still sinners, sent Christ to die for you. Your Father first showed his love for you, it was not the other way around you did not first love him.
You have a Father whose Son laid down his life for you. Jesus did the unexpected for you. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” You should expect to be condemned but because of Jesus you are not.
What a compassionate Father you have. He does the unexpected for you: he washes away your sins covering you with a white robe washed in the blood of the Lamb. You are feed with the body and blood of his Son for the forgiveness of your sins. With his words he pronounces to you,
“I have had mercy on you, I have given my Son to die for you and for his sake I forgive you all your sin.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria