Monday, May 29, 2006
Thoughts on the prodigal

So that glorious week spent doing nothing? Well, I lied. It never happened.

Instead, I moved. I spent the week packing my stuff and moving it across campus. There are two dorms for men here, and each summer they close one to "clean" it. That is what we are told, anyway. Most of the stuff I could leave in storage, but my room was on the third floor, and storage is in the basement. No elevator. My knees did not like that. On top of that, I had to coordinate getting everyone else out of the dorm, and making sure they didn't go all Johnny Depp on their dorm room.

Therefore, I rewarded this vast exertion of energy by running away to northern Indiana with Miss Jackie for the weekend. And I finally did nothing. Nu-thing.

Okay, I did something. I did hear a sermon on the Prodigal Son. And that got me thinking. If I were asked to speak on this well-known story from the Gospel of Luke, how might I do it?

Stop me if you've ehard this one before. As I was sitting in the pew before the service, I was thumbing through Deuteronomy (when you're a seminary Bible nerd, you do those sorts of things when you think people aren't looking). And I came across there a law quite apropos of the message. So I think I might start mine with Deuteronomy 21:18-21, as any sensible Jew would have this on the tip of their tongue when they begin to hear a story about a rebellious son.

Now, as our text for the day is Luke 15, next, I think I might point out Luke 1:52-53, and mention how Luke has this special affinity for the little guy. He likes to tell his Jesus stories with a focus on how those that The System has excluded and shoved into the margins Jesus now welcomes with open arms into the Kingdom. After all, it's the sick who need a doctor.

Then, to even call it the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" is misleading. It's not about one son; it's about two. Jesus' parables are like jokes. They have punchlines. The last statement of the parable is the key to understanding it all. The story doesn't end at verse 24. In Luke 15, there are eight more verses, and the youngest son has faded into the background. Clearly, this story is about more than just a son who ran away and came home. Any treatment of this story has to deal with the whiny son who stayed home.

Come to think of it, it's not even about the sons. It's about the father who breaks every social expectation. Remember the law from Deuteronomy. The son signs a death warrant by demanding his father's inheritance. The father has every right to have the son stoned right there. But he doesn't. It's not just that the father unexpectedly welcomes the son home. The son rightfully should have never even left alive.

Not only does the story not end where we typically tell it, it also begins earlier--not at verse 11, but at verse 1. Luke gives us two other parables about lost things. Surely, this no accident, and they have some direct connection to a story about a father with one lost son and one grumbling son.

Luke sets these up by giving us Jesus in the middle, in one corner tax collectors and "sinners", and in the other, Pharisees and scribes. We have the "in-crowd" and the "out-crowd". Jesus spends his time with those that every good Jewish boy is told to stay away from. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The Pharisee power-brokers are not happy. They must have forgotten to read the Magnificat at the beginning of Luke's story.

So Jesus starts in about sheep. "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." Then starts talking about coins. "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost."

Are we sensing a theme yet? And so how does Jesus wrap up his story about the father and two sons? "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found."

And so I'm thinking, maybe this story of Jesus' is less directed to those who have lost their way, and it's more for those who need a good kicking reminder to get happy when the lost find the Kingdom.

Yeah, I think that's the general direction I'd take this message if you asked me to talk about it.

posted by Peter at 11:35 PM
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