IN NOMINE JESU
Much speculation has been made of this parable of our Lord. Unfortunately, much has been incorrectly made of it. The Lord uses parables to catechize us regarding the kingdom of God. This parable is no exception. However, many so-called scholars—and many laymen—have misinterpreted the Lord's parables. They have taken the focus of the parables off the Lord and made a moral lesson out of it; that is to say, they twist the parable to teach us how we are supposed to be or to act. Regarding this parable, they try to say that this parable is about how we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. While it is commendable to take good care of God's gifts to us, such an interpretation perverts the Lord's teaching of this parable. The focus of the Lord's teaching, both in Law and Gospel, is always on Him…regarding the Law, He is our Judge; regarding the Gospel, He is our Savior. This parable is one of Gospel because it tells us of our heavenly Father's love for us.
Here our Lord teaches where He loves to teach, at the table. He was engaging in table fellowship, as He is desires to do with all who hear His voice. He was establishing table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, which ruffled the tunics of the Pharisees. They could not stand the fact that He received and ate with sinners. They believed that absolutely no one should even consider associating with them. This was very much a teachable moment. Here the Lord began to teach everyone who was there: Pharisees and scribes, sinners and tax collectors. This is the parable we have come to know as the parable of the prodigal son.
"A certain man had two sons" (v. 11). The man is our heavenly Father. The older son was the scribes and Pharisees. The younger son was the sinners and tax collectors. The younger son wanted to venture out on his own and wanted his share of the inheritance. An inheritance was only divided after the father's death or due to unusual circumstances. And the younger son had no right whatsoever to demand his share of the inheritance, which would go first to the older son, then to the younger. For the younger son to insist on his share of his inheritance, he acted as if his father was dead. The father, no doubt with tears in his eyes, granted his request and let him go. This younger son departed from his father's presence and "journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living" (v. 13). The word prodigal means wasteful, foolish, lavish, or extravagant. He did not live as his father had taught and raised him. Rather, he wasted away all that his father had given him.
Such is the life of the sinner. As such, we have indeed received many wonderful things from our heavenly Father. He has given us all that we need to support this body and life. Yet, even as children are rebellious toward that parents and want nothing to do with them, we want to keep God out of our lives, as if we were to say, "Thank You, Father; now let me go my own way." He reminds us, "You shall have no other gods before Me," but with a heavy heart He lets us go on our way, a way that leads to ruin every time. We are so full of rebellion that we cannot see our own way back to Him. We are too busy living in the moment, eating, drinking, and being merry. We waste what He has given us, and later hard times fall upon us. This is not to say that God causes us to go through such hunger and famine…far from it, for it is never God's will that we suffer. But it is when we are destitute that we realize our own emptiness.
This is what happened to the younger son, who is really you and me. He was poor and hungry, not even able to eat what he fed the pigs. Here the Lord says the younger son came to himself. He realized his plight and his need to return to his father. He was brought to contrition. He was in sorrow over what he had done. This is what the Holy Spirit does to us. He convicts us by the Law to bring us to contrition, that He would lead us to repentance, confessing our sins and asking our heavenly Father for His forgiveness. The younger son had prepared what he was going to say to his father. As he was heading back, his father was overjoyed at the sight of his son and ran out to meet him. Our heavenly Father is so full of joy that He runs to greet us, showering us with His love, our Father's love. The prodigal son did not deserve his father's love. Neither do we deserve our heavenly Father's love. We confess our sin to Him, and He restores us to His family, to His kingdom, and He prepares a feast for us, just as the father prepared a feast for his returning son.
Yet the elder son, whose responsibility it was to make arrangements for the feast, was nowhere to be found. As he approached, he learned the nature of the feast, from whence came singing and dancing. He was angry that his younger brother received this feast. He refused to acknowledge his own brother's existence. He was the Pharisee and the scribe, who want nothing to do with tax collectors and sinners, with whom the Lord ate. He was bitter because he was the one who obeyed his father—perhaps technically but not in spirit. He was a grudging son, whom the father also loved. The father invited him to the feast, too, for it was a cause to rejoice that a son who was as good as dead was home alive. The Lord desired that the scribes and Pharisees abandon their self-righteous act and return to Him, that they too would be in table fellowship with Him. The Lord dearly wants to establish His table fellowship with all people at all times and in all places, but we frown upon the Church's welcoming those whom we think are undesirable. We seek to prevent such inclusion not on the basis of doctrinal differences but of our own biases and prejudices, of our own arrogance and self-idolatry. Unlike the prodigal son, we, like the elder son, refuse to receive what our heavenly Father offers us. Yet, like the prodigal son, we find ourselves bankrupt, flat on our backs, and in need of repentance.
The goal of our Lord's parable is for us to be at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. The Lord said when He fed the 5,000, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (Jn. 6:29). It is the work of God to bring us to the eternal Feast. He extends the invitation to us, "Come to the Feast, for all is now ready." He even supplies the banquet clothes for us, robing us in the righteousness of Christ, as He has done for us at our Baptism, for all who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and, as St. Paul says in our Epistle, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Our Lord and Savior has made us new in Holy Baptism, uniting us with Him in His death and resurrection, and our heavenly Father has "reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling [you] to Himself, not imputing [your] trespasses to [you], and has committed to [you] the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19); that is, that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for [you], that [you] might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
Yes, God made His Son who knew no sin to be sin for you, sacrificing Him on the altar of the cross, just as the father in our parable had the fatted calf sacrificed for the feast of his son who returned to him. Your heavenly Father sacrificed His only-begotten Son for the Feast here on earth, at His Table, to celebrate your return to Him, for He has forgiven you who has sinned against heaven, against God, and were once unworthy to be called His child, but now He has declared you worthy on account of His Son, who became your wastefulness, your foolishness, and your sin so that your heavenly Father would receive you with open arms and bring you to His Feast in heaven.
In three weeks we will celebrate the return of God's Son—nay, the resurrection of the Christ. And forty days after that we will celebrate His return to His Father. In two weeks we will be gathered around the Lord's Table as He will give us a foretaste of the Feast to come. We would benefit greatly, though, from being in this table fellowship each Lord's Day rather than holding ourselves back to receiving His Son's body and blood once a month. Nevertheless, our Lord continues to invite us to His Table, to establish His table fellowship with us as He has done before, through Word and Sacrament. Our heavenly Father wants to give us His gifts. He wants to again establish His table fellowship with us, whereby He gives us all the good stuff He has to give us, namely, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Why does your heavenly Father want to shower you with these gifts? He loves you very much for the sake of His Son who became prodigal for us, that, by the Holy Spirit we would return to Him. We will echo the words of Isaiah the prophet on that day when we will say, "O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; 'For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.' …Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitants of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!" (Is. 12:1-2, 5-6). Yes, He is in your midst, preparing you for His feast. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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