C Cycle – 4th Sunday of Lent 19
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar of all the parables Jesus told. The message Jesus is challenging his audience then and now to grasp was the total and absolute forgiveness of all sin, all wickedness, all rejection of God’s love and all transgressions of the laws of God. The reason this attribute of God is challenging to them and to us is because it is an impossible, improper response to the son’s sin. To the Jews, the law demanded such a “…son be stoned to death and his evil purged from their midst” (Det. 21:21). The belief this grievous sin could not go unpunished by the Jews of Jesus day was an absolute that could not be ignored or reduced in severity. The real issue is we agree about that approach to sin until we are the one who needs forgiveness.
This reward and punishment aspect of sin is just as ingrained in our thinking, but we do believe in a forgiving God, don’t we? Have you ever listened to a bible discussion group dissecting this parable? The amazing thing is how many people side with the older brother believing his anger is just because the father let the younger brother off too easy. The real issue for us is we just do not understand forgiveness. We believe in it, but the truth is we have doubts if is as easy as God makes it appear in this and other parables.
Yet, God tells us in His prophecy through the Prophet Jeremiah that he “…forgives our wickedness and remembers our sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). Through the prophet Micah God tells us He will, “…pardon the sin and pass over the transgression” – meaning he forgives and forgets the guilt – Mic.7:1). Through the prophet Isaiah He tells us when we acknowledge our sins “…the guilt is taken away and the sin is atoned for” (Isa.6:7). Repeatedly God has sent His prophets to tell those very people about his nature to forgive and yet they cling to a law given to Moses on the mountain. Did God change His mind from that law to the new law of love or are we missing something.
Before all those laws were given to Moses, God reveals himself to Moses and identifies himself as a “…merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and fidelity, who forgives sin, iniquity and wickedness and yet will not let the guilty go unpunished” (Ex.34:6). If you take the time to read the scriptures, you will discover every prophet reveals those attributes of God while pronouncing if they just turn from their sin, God will restore them without penalty. So why would the parable of the prodigal son be such a difficult thing to embrace? God’s nature is to forgive, forget and restore us to our right place in the Kingdom of God as sons and daughters reaping the rewards of forgiveness without penalty.
God plan was simple and direct. Jesus Christ would take it upon Himself the punishment for our sins so we could stand in righteousness before our God. It is a gift given to us, not through any merit of our own but it does demand us to believe it is ours and it does demand we go out and do the same. If you think about this parable and get away from our own concept of reward and punishment you will discover both sons were guilty of not having a clear understanding of the Father. In them we truly are given a mirror to look at our own concept of God’s desire to forgive and forget.
The younger brother went home in humility seeking nothing more than to be a slave in his Fathers house. He did not expect restoration, instead he sought just to be in the presence of the Father without the benefits of a son. This is where many of us find ourselves today. We want to be in God’s presence of God, but we are content to be in the Kingdom without interacting with God. These manifests itself in us willing to serve and attend to the demands of the Lord. All this requires of us is obedience and our not failing to do anything we are required to do as salves.
The older brother gives us another image of God. It is one where fidelity to the demands of being a son are translated as doing all that is required of us is much like the concept of being a slave. We cannot expect anything from the Father except to meet his demands. We will never question or doubt what we believe the Father wants of us because we know He is a harsh taskmaster. We will conquer our free will by a strict interpretation of what we believe is required of us because it conforms to our religious code or the reward awaiting us.
That was the stance of the Pharisees as they listened to Jesus that day. Their minds of how God dealt with sin was fixed and nothing God had revealed to them through the prophets could break through that firmly held belief that sin must be punished not overlooked. We find ourselves stuck with that same concept and because we fear punishment, we work hard to earn leniency, not pardon or forgiveness but seeking to be given credit for the good we have done.
We just do not believe sin can be forgiven without penalty and then forgotten never to be held against us again. Yet that is exactly what God has told us repeatedly He will do, and He did it with more than words. Jesus sealed that promise of God made to us by taking the guilt of our sins upon himself. Another reason we struggle with God’s absolute forgiveness is because we have trouble forgiving those who sin against us. We want them to hurt as much as they hurt us. We might forgive if they come begging for forgiveness. But we are not willing to restore a broken relationship that was changed by their grave sin against us.
Just remember God has made a central part of forgiveness our seeking Him, acknowledging Jesus died for my sin not just the sins of the world but mine and then we must forgive those who sin against us.
This parable gives us much to think about and instead of debating the fairness of the parable we need to believe what the prodigal son and his brother failed to believe – God is a God who forgives and restores.