"The Parable of the Loving Father"Dr. James M. Pitts Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. Year C – Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Parenting is the most difficult job I have ever had!” With a sigh, a mother went on to describe acting out behaviors, sibling rivalry and gross immaturity. I asked, “What is the age of your children?” “Oh, they are adults” she replied. Running away, temper tantrums and concerns only about me and mine, are not limited to children or adolescents, but also include adult children of all ages.
Drawing upon the dysfunction of family, Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, when you read it, you realize there is more than one character in this drama. Three players: a younger son, his elder brother and a loving father form the primary cast of this tale.
The youngest son wanted out. He wanted to leave the domestic dullness of home for the stimulation and excitement of a new and unexplored world. In leaving, he chose to “cash out.” He told his father, “I want mine now!” “Give me my inheritance now, rather than later when you are dead.”
The father cooperated with his son’s crass request and paid him off. And so, he was off to see the world. He did it all! He lived it up until the bottom fell out. Famine came unexpectedly and at the wrong time, as it always does. He was destitute and desperate. He sold himself out to work “slopping hogs.” Imagine, the shame of a Jewish boy working for a Gentile pig farmer. So hungry, he was envious of their feed.
Finally, he came to himself. He realized that his situation was stupid. He knew that all of his father’s workers had plenty to eat, and here he was about to starve. In the far country, he was a long way from home. He was estranged from God, alienated from his father and a stranger to himself. And so, he got up and started back.
Meanwhile, back on the family farm, the father was waiting and watching for his wayward boy to come home. Seeing him at a great distance, the father runs out to meet him. Bleary eyed and dead broke; reeking with the stench of pigs and drink, the son repeated his long-rehearsed confession.
His father enthusiastically embraces him, kisses him and wraps his cloak around him. This is not just as a loving gesture of welcome, but also a way of protecting him from those who wanted to punish him for the shame he had brought upon his community and family.
The father began to shout to the servants for them to bring a robe, a ring, a pair of shoes. Prepare the fatted calf. We are going to have a party. In telling the story some preachers stop here. It makes a simple three-point sermon: (1) sick of home! (2) home sick! and (3) home! That being the end would be nice and neat, but Jesus continues on.
Not wanting us to miss seeing ourselves in the shadows, Jesus directs us to the other lost son, the good kid who stayed at home. He was right where you would expect to find him, out in the field, working. His little brother knew how to play, but the big brother knew how to work and work was all that he knew how to do.
As he came near the house, he heard the noise of music and dancing. The welcome home party had begun. The older son was not happy. He was so angry, that he would not go inside. He was sad, sick and sorry that his brother had come home.
So once again, the loving father comes out to embrace a lost son. He invites him to join the homecoming celebration. Patiently he listens to his son’s complaint and invites him to come on in.
We are reminded that that whether we leave home or stay; the good and the angry, as well as the wayward and adventurous, can become alienated from family, self, neighbor, and God.
The hero of the story is not the sons, but the father, who waits and welcomes all the children who have been away in body and spirit. While known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this lesson for living could be called the Story of the Lost Sons. Yet, more appropriately, it is “The Parable of the Loving Father.”
It could also be called the story of “The Extravagant Father.” When the younger son left home, they point out; the father was reckless and extravagant in giving him his entire inheritance in a lump sum.
When the boy returned with nothing, the father gave an extravagant party. He loved his son recklessly when he was at home and ready to leave. He loved him extravagantly when he came back home.
Jesus told this story to help us understand God’s extravagant love. Jesus came from the Father’s heart and demonstrated the Father’s extravagance in his actions.
When Jesus was told that the wine was running out at a wedding feast in Cana, he made 150 gallons or wine from water.
When Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children, there were 12 baskets full left over.
When the Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant saying, “I am not worthy for you to come to my house, just say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8), Jesus said the word, healed his servant, and lavished extravagant praise on the man’s faith.
God is extravagant in his welcoming, redeeming and reconciling love. The upright, uptight, do-right older brother is a miser. He won’t go to the party for his brother, and he resents his father’s generosity.
Jesus’ actions of extravagant generosity are a true picture of God. His story of the extravagant, loving father gives us a clear picture of God. The father loved his child, waited for him to come home, and was ready to make the party begin.
God waits and welcomes all the children … all his sons and daughters who have been away in body and spirit. God waits and offers loving acceptance, blessing and freedom to live without self-hate, envy and anger. The party has started. The host of the party in whose house we gather has personally invited you to be a part of this happy celebration.
Regardless of whether you are the oldest or youngest, the good or bad kid, the one who strayed or stayed, it’s time to come home. It’s time to leave your alienating anger and self-righteous arrogance behind, and come home,
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling— Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching— Watching for you and for me!
Come home! come home! Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading— Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies— Mercies for you and for me?
Time is now fleeting; the moments are passing— Passing from you and from me.
Shadows are gathering, death-beds are coming— Coming for you and for me!
Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised— Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon— Pardon for you and for me!
About the writer:
Dr. James M. Pitts is university chaplain [retired] and professor of religion emeritus, Furman University. A native of Washington, DC, Jim is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, SC, Southeastern Seminary at Wake Forest, NC, and Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.
An experienced pastoral counselor, he has worked in both congregational and hospital settings. His professional expertise includes crisis counseling, substance abuse intervention, and career guidance for persons in ministry.
His sermons and essays on biblical and pastoral themes are published in books, magazines and on NextSunday.com. One of the founders of Smyth & Helwys, Jim has served as Chairman of the Board for the past 28 years. In addition to serving as the editor of www.NextSundayWorship.com, he is the principal photographer and editor of www.NextSundayGallery.com an educational resource with a comprehensive collection of high quality photos illustrating the geography and archaeology of the Biblical world.
Jim and his wife Nancy are the parents of two sons and two daughters-in-law: Stewart (deceased) and his wife Kelley, and Jonathan and his wife Jackie. They are the proud grandparents of three grandsons, Will, Jon Walker and Colton, and a granddaughter, Lilli.
Scripture and Music:
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
What Wondrous Love Is This
Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
Softly and Tenderly
This Is A Day of New Beginnings
Like A River Glorious
New Born Again
Grace Greater Than All Our Sin
And the Father Will Dance (Mark Hayes)
Wondrous Love (Shaw/Parker)
Bring Him Home
Rejoice! I Found the Lost (arr. Wayne Wold)
If You Will Only Let God Guide You (arr. David Schwoebel)
Through It All (Andre Crouch)
Jesus Is the Song (David Danner)
It Is Enough (Mendelssohn)
Refiner s Fire (Jon Mohr)
Forgiven (Buryl Red)