Rev. Anita Farber-Robertson
Luke 15:11-32 (New International Version)
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.'
20 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.
21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! 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. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
This parable has always been a challenge for me. I am an eldest. I have been aware of the special roles, responsibilities and expectations that are part of the lot of the eldest. While I have enjoyed the privileges of the eldest (often unaware) I have also experienced resentment at what seems like lesser demands and expectations on the younger ones. So I often found myself annoyed at Jesus’ seeming protection of the irresponsible youngest, and dismissing of the rightful concerns and legitimate hurts of the eldest.
And because I, like the younger son in the parable, am sometimes in a hurry, wanting some things before it is time, pushing authorities to hurry up, and on occasion making impulsive decisions, I feel the comfort and relief of the younger son when he is accepted back into the bosom of the father.
But I want you to go somewhere else with me today. I want you to imagine you are the father. It may feel hard- forbidden. After all, the father in the story is usually understood to be a representative of God. And that is fine. But please, put your hesitation aside, and become, with me, the father.
As a father, you know what it is like to love children, raise children, and yet, in the final analysis have no control over what they do, who they are, or what they become. They are not yours. They are their own.
As the father, you (along with their mother) created the physical manifestation of their being, or at least of what would become the home and temple of their spirit and their mind. But now that they are adults you have no control over them, and in hindsight, you realize that much of what passed for control in their developing years, was an illusion. They always owned their own souls, their own selves, their own relationship to God and maybe even to you…a sobering thought.
As a single parent you look at these young men who only a moment ago were children you dandled on your knee. They are as different from you as they are from each other.
One is strong, dependable, devoted. You can count on him. He will be there for you. But he is silent. He keeps his own counsel. His heart is known to him alone. You love him, trust him, and yet, feel a loneliness and sorrow. Who is this man, your son, with whom you live and share your meals, yours days, your home? How hard to be a grateful father when the longing for intimacy is like a thirst that is not slaked, when the yearning for his love seeks continually for signs of confirmation.
The second son is as much a source of angst as is the first - probably more so. What does get into that boy that makes him want to flee? We have a good life here, a good home good friends and neighbors. What is the hurry? We have time to divide inheritance, make choices, build lives. At least it seems so to me, but not to him. I shake my head, and wonder, but know that I cannot hold this boy back. I cannot understand him. I grieve the loss, not only of his physical presence, but of the chance to build some understanding between us; one that will bridge the chasm that was formed when his mother died, and I did not know what to do.
Here I am, a father of two grown strong sons, and I am lonely and bereft. My heart aches and the pillow absorbs my silent tears.
Have there been people, organizations, structures you created out of love and vision that went on to construct their own future, leaving you behind? How did that feel? Could you experience pride in their being, their maturity, even while feeling lonely, abandoned or superfluous? Could you wish them well even when you thought they were unwise in their decisions? How is it to let go, knowing that your role has changed, their lives are their own?
God created us out of love, investing us with free will. God took the risk that we would disappoint, make mistakes, walk away, arms laden with the gifts of love and grace that God had lavished on us.
Can you imagine extending that kind of love, the love that gives without conditions or requirements of return? What would it take for you to feel that generous, that secure, that you could give it away without flinching? Where is it needed? Can you extend it now?
You are not only the father in this story, entrusted with an inexhaustible larder of love. You are the sons, and the servants, the neighbors and the strangers. You are the lost souls who wander into the story unannounced and unaware. The larder of love is infinitely full, eternally available.
Can you imagine receiving such love? Being held in it? God’s love. Unearned. Unconditional. Yours.
Gracious God, in whom we live and move and have our being, be with us in our hour of need, our hour of uncertainty, of insecurity, of faithlessness, of loneliness, abandonment, betrayal. These feelings are a part of our story, whether they are predominant now, or were at some time in the past. We need you with us.
Be with us in these our times of confusion, discernment, vulnerability, caution. Help us to feel the steadying of your presence, the trust in your guidance.
Share with us the celebration of our joys, the wonders in which our lives are awash, often unbeknown to us. Teach us to accept your gifts of grace with gratitude and humility.
O God of life and love and new beginnings, help us relinquish our demands upon the future and the outcomes of our efforts. Let us be like the father who holds all in love. And let us remember that we too are the sons, foolish, resentful, and bound deeply to you. We rest in your embrace, renewing our strength, thus fortified to make our next imperfect foray into the wider world. Amen.