The Parable of the Prodigal and His BrotherLuke 15:11-24 (NRSVUE)
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the wealth that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant region, and there he squandered his wealth in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that region, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that region, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses 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.
How many of you have seen the Disney movie “Aladdin?” I think most of us have, or we at least know the story. A few of the key pieces of the story are a boy named Aladdin, a magic lamp, a genie, and three wishes. Now there’s lots of other stuff that goes on with people trying to steal the lamp and trying to trick Aladdin, but today I really just want to focus on those three wishes.
Now in the movie, there are a few rules regarding the wishes. The genie can’t make anyone fall in love with you, he can’t bring people back from the dead, and you can’t use a wish to wish for more wishes. But basically, you have three wishes to make your dreams come true!! Can you imagine? How exciting!
Now I wonder, if you had three wishes like that, what might you wish for? A million dollars? A new car? A mansion by the ocean? A trip around the world? An airplane you could fly yourself? Maybe a puppy?
We always think that having our wishes come true would make our lives better, but many times the things we think we want are not really good for us, and sometimes they cause us more trouble in the end. That’s actually what happened in today’s scripture reading, isn’t it?
As the story goes, there was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” You see, in the back of the younger son’s mind, he was wishing for three things, just like the three wishes Aladdin had. He wanted lots of money, he wanted to travel the world, and he wanted to be his own boss so no one could tell him what to do. He knew that if he could just have those three things, his life would be perfect!
Have you ever felt that way? That your life would be perfect if just one or two or maybe three things would happen? Well, he knew that if his father gave him his share of the property, his dreams would start coming true. Because remember, his first wish was to have a lot of money, and that’s just what his father gave him.
His second wish, if you remember, was to travel and see the world, which he did, though scripture says: “He traveled to a distant country and squandered his property in dissolute living.” That means that he made some poor choices and he spent all his money on not very nice things.
And finally, his third wish was to be his own boss and do whatever he wanted without anyone else telling him what to do. But when he finally was his own boss and got to do whatever he wanted, he found out that being a boss and doing whatever you what to do takes lots of responsibility and isn’t always as fun as it sounds.
So the younger son got his three wishes, but after a while, he ran out of money, and when he ran out of money, his friends all left him, and he found himself all alone. He had no money, no friends, and no food to feed himself, so he went to work for a man who sent him to feed his pigs. Now working with pigs may sound fun to some of you, or it may sound like a dirty job, but it was even worse than that because the younger son came from a Jewish family and pigs were the most unkosher animal. So the younger son had hit rock bottom. He couldn’t have possibly found himself in a worse place, and he was so hungry that he would gladly have eaten the food he was feeding to the pigs.
Finally, as he looked into the pig pen, he thought about the mess he had made of his life. He thought about his father and the home he had left behind, and he knew that even the servants in his father’s house lived better than this. So, he headed home to say he was sorry and to beg his father to allow him to be one of his servants. All the way home, he practiced what he was going to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Please, treat me like one of you hired hands… Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Please, treat me like one of your hired hands.” The more he said it, the more filled with guilt and shame he was. And the closer he got to his father’s house, the more broken and unworthy he felt.
I wonder, have you ever felt that bad? Have you ever said something or done something and thought that you could never be forgiven or that no one would ever love you again? The truth is, sometimes we make bad choices, just like the younger son in today’s story. Sometimes we wish for things that are not good for us. And sometimes we don’t live by our faith or follow in the footsteps of Jesus because following the crowd sounds more fun. When we act that way, we really make a mess of our lives. But the good news is, just like the father in our story, God, is always waiting for us with open arms offering us the freedom of forgiveness and inviting us to let go of the guilt and shame that we carry.
Folks, as human beings, we are very good at beating ourselves up. And we sometimes like to wallow in our guilt and our shame and our feelings of brokenness and unworthiness. But the good news is, God never gives up on us! Did you hear that? God never gives up on us. No matter who we are, what we have done, where we have been, what we have said, or what we have left undone, God never gives up on us.
Folks, God’s love is unconditional, meaning that it has nothing to do with us or the poor choices and the mistakes that we have made. God’s love is about who and what God is. And no matter what, God always welcomes us back with open arms. In our scripture reading today, when the younger son arrived home, he was expecting the worst. He was filled with guilt and shame. He felt bad for what he had done, and he knew that he was no longer worthy to be his father’s son. He said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of you hired hands.”
Now the father could have slammed the door in his face. He could have sent a servant to the door to tell him to go away. He could have yelled and screamed at him and told him how disappointed in him he was, but instead, without hesitation, the father reached out his arms and hugged his son. He welcomed him back home as a son and not a servant. Then he called to his servants and said, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was lost, but now is found.”
Folks, the father in this story was sharing unconditional love with his son just like God shares unconditional love with us. Friends, the guilt and shame and unworthiness that we carry on a daily basis come from us when we don’t understand the freedom of forgiveness and when we haven’t learned how to accept God’s gift of grace. You see, grace is not something we can ever earn. We don’t deserve it more by being nice, or reading scripture, or by praying for hours on end. Grace is a gift from God that is given moment after moment, day after day, and year after year, and all we need to do is simply choose to accept and receive it.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, know that God doesn’t keep score, hold grudges, or harbor resentment. So let go of the guilt and shame you are carrying and feel the freedom of forgiveness so that you can accept the amazing grace of God and feel God’s loving embrace, being assured of what I tell you each and every week, that you truly are loved just the way you are!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!