The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.'”
This is a story we have heard over and over and I do not need to share with anyone what it means. The repentance of the younger son, the love of the father and the anger of the older brother, we know the whole story bi-heart.
In today’s version the story needs to be slightly different particularly in our context. Borrowing a concept from Pastor Phill Formo, Pastor of a Lutheran Church, I composed my own story of the prodigal son. Here is how it goes.
Once upon a time there was a man, who had a wonderful childhood. He lived with his parents until he turned 22, an age of computer literacy and modern technology. One fine morning he came to his father and politely talked to him about what he is capable of doing in this world to be rich and famous. He asked for some seed money from his father that he may invest in some of these projects, to the point may be, leaving no option but to give at least one third of his possessions. Being coerced into great possibilities, his old father, who did not understand all that it implies gave him what he asked for: to invest and increase.
The young man goes out into the world of business and becomes wickedly rich. One day in the height of his fame and name, his friends throws a party for him and he indulged in all that was given. That evening while he was alone in his room, friends all gone by, he came to his senses. He recognized that he was lonely and lost. He was alone with a craving for more and more. Life became meaningless with things that were complicated, complex and futuristic. He longed to live in the moment of simplicity rather than in the future promise of the stock. He wanted to find joy in who he was then than who he could be tomorrow.
He then said to himself. I had been living in the future for so long, I don’t know who I am. What I am is what market dictates and the world projects. What I am is nothing more than what others make me to be. I would love to be myself. I want to enjoy the beauty of simple things in life as my father does. Life is real and present and now. It is passing by as I watch it.
He then packed all he had in a bag; set out to meet his father in distant land where things are still simple and beautiful. His father in his old age saw his son from far away and welcomed him with great love.
He calls the butcher in the house, gets a great feast going. They gathered around the table in the night and danced around the bonfire. His father, who was old and did not care about what his son had and did not have, except that he got to see him, celebrated his return. For his father what matters happens now and it’s here, his own flesh and blood. He missed him terribly.
His younger son sat quietly listening to the music, enjoying the simplicity and beauty that it brings.
His older brother returned and found this celebration around his brother who had gone away and returned with all the riches of the world in his hands. He was saddened and angry not because of the party but because he had lost him all these years. He had to grow up alone without the friendship and love of a brother. He was upset because at times he had to carry the burden of care and love for his parents and family all alone. He said to his brother, “brother do you know what it takes to take care of older parents? Do you know what it takes to sit next to them, when they don’t make sense of anything they say, but you know they love you to death?” He had enough to provide all that his parents needed. But his brother needed a shoulder to cry on. He was upset because his brother had gone far away to amass the wealth of the world for himself. His brother wanted someone to say to him, I understand. All will be well.
This is where I want to end the story and say this.
To the younger sons here I say: True love calls us to return home. True repentance calls us back to our loved one. As a community that would mean, to let go of small hurts, little problems and getting back into the groove of life with our own family many times, and friends afterwards. Many times those who need us most are those who apparently do not seem to need us back in their lives. Many times they are the dearest to us.
To the rest of us I will say: To welcome those who return into our lives we need lots of bits and pieces of forgiveness. It requires one to have lots of mercy rather than justice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. Everyone who sinned deserves to be treated justly. But all those who went far away from love, needs mercy even more.
As Peter Ustinov, actor and comedian said, “love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit”. We should develop a habit of love rather than a habit of justice. Then there will be prodigal fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, older and younger brothers amidst us.
My dear brothers and sisters, while we are anxious and worried about on whose side is the prodigal behavior in the story I said, what is important is to recognize what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Said, “if we are devoid of the power to forgive” like the older son, “we are devoid of the power to love”. It goes both ways. The greatness of the father was the ability to enjoy his son as he was in that given moment.