Living Absolution

Text: Luke 15:23-24
Date: Lent IV + 3/10/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He has appeared before God’s throne as the prodigal Son, confessing our sins as if they were His own, yet who is counted worthy of great joy, for, after His atoning death, when He became alive again, He reconciled us to God our rejoicing Father by His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus told a parable to the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, those who had forgotten (if they ever knew) of the extent of God’s love. They grumbled not so much against the tax collectors and sinners but against Jesus who seemed to welcome them and not be careful enough about His own purity. Actually, our Lord told this parable to His disciples, to us, too. So it is a parable of a father and two sons. It would seem the parable asks us to choose which son we are. It would seem it is a parable about good guys and bad guys. But before we side up with one or the other let us take a closer look.

The famous parable tells a story that seems to be one familiar to every person, of the general petulance and passions of youth. If we cannot identify with the dissing of father and family we seem more easily to fill in the blanks from our own experience in the areas of leaving home, being lonely and in need, humiliated by living circumstances, and even the “reckless living” to one extent or another.

We are struck with the “coming to himself” by which he became more introspective and his apparent repentance and his decision to return home. But what seems to us at first to be repentance—“I will say to my father, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants,’”—is actually not quite accurate. For true repentance involves not only contrition, sorrow for sin, but also faith. Notice that the young man didn’t even consider it possible to be received back by his father as a son but only as a servant.

So now consider that this parable of the prodigal son maybe should be renamed the parable of the two sons. And when we look at the older son, what do we see? First, anger and jealousy. He, too, separated himself from his father and family by refusing to go into the house. Jesus paints the Pharisees and scribes into a corner with this picture of them in the older son! We see not repentance and faith but reliance only upon the righteousness of your own works. The first word sounds almost condescending as he says to his father, “Look!” And then not just, “I have served you,” but “these many years I have served you.” How’s your track record of serving God? And not “I have tried to be obedient,” but “I never disobeyed your command.” None of us can say that in the face of the Ten Commandments. And even when he complains about not being given a celebration for all his acclaimed service and obedience, he thinks of celebrating not with father and family but “with my friends.” He says, “when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” How different is that from the Pharisees’ thought, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”?

So, now, choose. With which son do you identify? The first was sorry for his sin, the second was blind to his, but neither displayed true repentance. So the parable asks you, compels you to identify yourself with both sons.

Therefore this parable of the prodigal son, renamed the parable of the two sons, we need to discover is best renamed the parable of the faithful father. When he, the father, saw the first son coming back home “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embrace him and kissed him.” When he saw the second son refusing to join in the family celebration, His father likewise ran out entreated him to come in. The only difference in the two sons is, whereas the first son returned and received the surprise of being accepted back into the family not as merely a servant but as a real son, we’re not told if the second son came into the celebration or defiantly stayed outside or went somewhere else. Would the Pharisees and scribes remain obstinate in their grumbling against Jesus? Or would they repent and turn to Him in faith?

God has seen you “while still a long way off,” even before you were born! That “long way” may be defined by admitted sinful acts and profligate, reckless living or it may be under the guise of only apparent, Pharisaical outward obedience covered with pride. Because of our inherited sin, though we are created by God we were born “still a long way off.” If it were up to us we would remain a long way off, for we cannot successfully return to God our Father either by our own calculations or presumed piety. To be welcomed home to the family of God He must first come to us, run to us, embrace us with the full, total and complete forgiveness of all our sins because of the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, greet us with the kiss of peace in our holy baptism, clothe us with the best robe of Christ’s righteousness, impress on us the insignia of His kingly ring of ownership, give us shoes of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) that will not wear out, and throw a banquet of celebration for us, His sons and daughters, once dead, but alive again, once lost and now found—found by God.

So come, let us join in the feast of victory, the marriage feast of the Lamb of God in His kingdom, which shall have no end. Receiving the Lord’s own body and blood sacramentally but nevertheless really, let us not try to earn or deserve, but simply to receive:
to receive the kingly love that faithfully kept the ancient promises and bids us to come,
the lavish love that prepares a table bounteous as God’s heart, that we may leave our puny care and taste and see how good God is,
the seeking love of God’s own hurrying feet that has searched for us all this time, and urges and calls us and everyone to fill His boundless banquet hall,
the holy, ruthless love of God that will not look on us or anyone robed only in contempt anymore, but in the white baptismal robe of eternal life. [LW 346]

Blessed is this King who comes to us in the name of the Lord.