First Mennonite Church
September 21, 2014
The Compassionate Father
Text: Luke 15:11-31
A modern version
Rudy and Kim raised a beautiful family of two girls. This couple was hardworking and well-respected in the community. They loved their daughters and provided for their every need. But when Mindi, the oldest of their children turn 16, she dropped out of school and joined a group of other troubled girls and boys. Rudy and Kim pleaded with her to stay in school, but Mindi only became more rebellious. After some time she stopped coming home because she moved to one of the boys’ apartment. Around the time Mindi was supposed to graduate from high school, she gave birth to her first child, but her relationship with the boy had gone sour. Mindi was kicked out of the apartment. That Friday night she called home from a shelter for battered women. She asked to talk to her dad to whom she asked if he and her mom would accept her back. What she did not know was that her dad had been longing and praying each day for his daughter to come back home. Rudy asked Mindi about the time she could come home to which she said in the early evening so neighbors would not see her when she came.
Rudy and Kim called their friends and other relatives to come for a party. They set up tables and chairs on the front lawn, decorated the fence with fancy balloons and filled the front yard with every celebrative decoration they could find. What Rudy and Kim did not know was that the neighbor, who happened to be a preacher, was watching. He—the preacher–pretended he needed to fix something in his lawn and went close to the fence toward the neighbor’s side and asked what the buzz was all about. And he was told that Mindi was coming home with her baby that evening.
The preacher who is the one who told this story said, “When I first heard of what Mindi was doing to her parents and pain she was causing them, I said to myself, ‘Praise God that Mindi is not my child because if she were my child I would have erased her out of my life.’ But that day, when I saw what Rudy and Kim were doing for their daughter, I understood the parable of Jesus a little more and was even ashamed of myself.”
Most of us who read or hear this story in Luke chapter 15 about this loving father and his two sons can easily miss how piercing it most have sounded the first time Jesus told it. You see, most of us who hear this story have “decent” families. Even if our adult children are not committed Christians, they are not squanderers of our hard-earned money; they are not beggars in a foreign country, but hard working men and women in their local communities; they have not lost their sense of dignity so as to desire to eat food of pigs or to go dumpster diving, but they have a healthy sense of pride and dignity. And added to this good-enough view of our family is the fact that we, who hear or read this story, do not perceive of ourselves as being either the squanderer younger brother or the disrespectful, self-righteous older brother. And these could be the main obstacles as to why we have difficulty grasping the magnificent portrait of God as a loving Father who gives us everything, waits patiently for our return, and keeps inviting us to rejoice when the lost one comes home to rejoin the family.
The context where Jesus told this story goes back to chapter 14, verse 1, which reads: One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in the house of this prominent Pharisee, Jesus not only healed a man, but he also told several parables. As Jesus reclined around at the table and as he told some beautiful stories of lost and found things, and about table etiquette, Luke 15, verse one tells us how the guests were reacting. And so we read in verse 1: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
These tax collectors and sinners were hated people because of their trade or because of their poor choices in life. Yet they crowded even closer to Jesus as he spoke and told these beautiful stories. They were fascinated with his stories and everything Jesus was saying. But not everyone was equally impressed. The Pharisees and the experts of the law were murmuring: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
As Jesus, the master story-teller, continued talking to those who were all ears to his words, he painted a portrait of a father with his two sons. Most times the very title commonly given to this parable obscures the central point intended by Jesus. This parable is commonly called “The Prodigal Son” and the title makes us focus on the younger son. However, when Jesus begins to tell the parable he says: “There was a man who had two sons. And this man or who this man represents is the one who Jesus wants to highlight. God the Father is that man who Jesus wants to portray in this story.
- The man is free giving even to the point that giving hurts.
- This man is not a controlling freak.
- This man patiently waits for his lost son to come home.
- This man has a heart longing to be united with his two sons.
- This man suffers disgrace from the younger son, yet extends endless grace when he returns.
- This man suffers humiliation from the older son, yet pleads him to share the joy of his younger brother’s having come back home.
- This man offers a welcoming banquet even when the son comes only because hunger forced him to remember his father.
- This man rejoices freely and generously even at his own expense.
- This man forgives.
- This man represents God.
The younger son asked for what was his share and the father gave it to him. Shortly after the young son went far away to waste everything he was given. In his state of despair he does the worst thing imaginable according to Jewish decency and religion. But it was there, when the stomach of the young son churns with hunger pangs, when he was as muddy as the pigs he was feeding, when he desired to eat the food he was feeding to the pigs, Jesus says: he came to his senses. This phrase captures the human capacity to realize how erroneously past decisions have been made, or how stubbornly one has behaved, or how self-centeredly someone has acted. Hunger brought this young man to his senses and the first thing that came to his mind was his father and the abundance of food there was at home.
The younger son prepared his confession. Although this young man knew how insulting and disrespectful his asking for his share of the inheritance was, he did not lose hope his father would at least listen to his confession. But to his surprise, the father had been waiting and longing for the day his son would return home. Verse 20 reads: 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.
My dear brothers and sisters, when was the last time you really felt God embrace and kissing? In the OT kissing symbolizes forgiveness. Remember how Esau kissed and wept over the shoulder of Jacob (Gen. 33:4). Remember David when he kissed and also wept over the shoulder of his son Absalom (2 Sam 14:33) How often do you approach your heavenly Father and say, “Daddy, I love you.” Or do you come to God only at certain moments of the day or when you have a request to make to Him as did the young son?
You know, I love my children. Every day I call each one of them and say: “Emmanuel,” “Jasmine,” or “Madeleine, I want to give you a hug.” And as I hold them in my arms I whisper in their ear, “I love so very much.” I do that because that is my experience too with God when I pray. I feel a sense of love, peace, and of assurance. And I know that every time I go to God in prayer, He is waiting for me.
My dear friends, God is waiting for us to come home to Him. God, the compassionate Father, is peering down the road toward us and is patiently waiting to see when we will come home to Him.
When the young man came back, he had a confession ready to make. He addressed the old man who embraced him, “father.” When we come to God in repentance we learn to say, “Abba,” as Paul says. Repentance means learning to say Abba again to the heavenly Father. This is something the older son had not learned even when he remained in the house of his father. When the older son was coming and found out that his younger brother had come back and therefore the reason for the feast going on, he was filled with anger and refused to enter his house. Again the father’s compassion became evident toward the older son. Yet when the father approached his older son, this did not address him as “father,” instead he began by saying, “Now look at me! or ‘listen to me!’ 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…”
The older son not only disavowed his younger brother but also refused to acknowledge his father as family. All the time he had stayed home was for him an obligation or to earn merits. Although he had physically stayed home, his heart, love and loyalty to his father were not there. And when his younger brother came home, his rebelliousness and anger came bursting out. The older brother just as the younger one had one and the same problem: they each demanded what they believed was rightfully theirs. The younger son asked for his fair, legal, and rightful share of the inheritance. It was given to him and he squandered it. The older brother viewed the time and work at home as time earning points of righteousness redeemable with goods to expend with his friends away from family.
When we claim our rights we easily forget the importance of relationships. We see that in children. We see that in churches too. This story reminds us that the compassionate father values relationship, not only towards his children but also among his children. He pleaded with the older son to join the celebration. It is difficult if not impossible to rejoice with others when we believe they have wronged us or that the joy for them or someone is unmerited.
All of us are in need of grace. All of us need to come home to the heavenly Father. All of us are brothers and sisters constantly learning to say, “Abba Father.” All of us need to remember that if we are a brother or sister, we also have brothers and sisters in the family. God is our compassionate Father.