Forget About It!
(Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32)
This past February twenty-two of us from Community United Methodist Church served at the Winter Shelter in Port Townsend. Some of us made it a point to sit at the same table with the residents, sharing a meal with them, talking with them and engaging them as just another person. Some were there because they had fallen victim to hard times and just needed a place to stay until they could get back on their feet. Others were obviously lost individuals and who knows what they squandered in their past lives. Now in the grips of alcohol, drugs, or mental illness, they were, in all likelihood, estranged from family and friends. They may have become ashamed of what or who they had become, wondering if they could ever go home, if they had passed the point of no return.
And, this is were we find ourselves in our scripture reading for this morning. Large crowds had gathered to hear Jesus and many in the crowds would travel along with Jesus and his disciples from town to town to learn more from this unconventional rabbi. In the crowds were Pharisees who were monitoring Jesus’ movements and what he was saying. They were becoming concerned over the growing following as they observed how the people reacted to Jesus’ message, how it resonated with these common people. We are told that the Pharisees were grumbling about this Jesus, who professed to be a rabbi, eating with tax collectors and sinners. It was an affront to them that this man welcomed these people openly and ate with them. They felt Jesus was showing them up and perhaps felt snubbed and insulted that Jesus would rather hang out with common rabble and not eat with the elite.
Jesus had no problem violating the norms of the day to reach the lost. He disregarded the sanctions against associating with the lower classes of people. Afterall, he came to offer salvation to sinners and to show that God loved them, especially them. He didn’t worry about the accusations. Instead, he continued going to those who needed him regardless of the effect these rejected people might have on his reputation and they responded in kind.
So, we learn that Jesus then told the crowd a parable. Parables were stories that contained one or more meanings depending upon the listener. Jesus knew many in the crowd needed to hear a story about redemption and, likewise, he felt that the listening Pharisees needed to hear a story about forgiveness and acceptance. So, he tells the well-known story of the prodigal son.
In this case, the younger son would inherit a third of the father’s estate while the eldest son would receive two-thirds. This division usually happened upon the death of the father, but the father could do it before he died if he wanted to retire and turn the family business or farm over to his heirs. In this case, he didn’t retire. He gave the younger son his third and continued to work with the eldest son. The youngest son wanted out. He wanted to see the world and show his father he could make it on his own. He was tired of living in his older brother’s shadow, a brother who could probably do no wrong. Sound familiar? He didn’t just go into the nearest town. He went off to a distant land to do his thing, where he could do what he wanted to without anyone to tell him otherwise. Again, a common story and with no social media there was no way for the father to monitor what his son was up to. He squandered his wealth in wild living, partying like a rock star. He spent everything he had to his name, and all his so-called friends left him. To make matters worse, there was a severe famine in the land which made work hard to come by and he fell on hard times. So, he got a job feeding pigs, which was as low as you could sink. Worse job ever, especially for a Jewish boy. Pigs were considered unclean, could not eaten, used for sacrifices or even touched. For a Jew to stoop to feeding pigs was a great humiliation, and for the young man to eat food that the pigs had touched was to be degraded beyond belief. The young man had truly sunk to the lowest of depths. If his father could see him now.
When he finally hit rock bottom and came to his senses, he wondered if he could go home. Was his father’s love great enough to take him back? If not, he would gladly sign on as a hired hand. At least there wouldn’t be any pigs to contend with. So, he decided to suck it up and prepare himself to hear his father say: “I told you so.” As he was a distance off, approaching the farm, his father saw him and, filled with compassion, ran to him throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him. Not the reception he expected, but one he welcomed. The son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Forget about it! Bring some clean clothes and some sandals. Kill the fatted calf, let’s celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found. And they partied.
The father watched and waited. He was dealing with a human being with a will of his own, but he was ready to greet his son if he returned. In the same way, God’s love is constant and patient and welcoming. He will search for us and give us opportunities to respond, but he will not force us to come to him. Like the father in this story, God waits patiently for us to come to our senses. God’s great love reaches out and finds sinners no matter why or how they got lost.
Now, the older brother represents those long-time people of faith who have walked a path of righteousness and have a difficult time in accepting a returning sinner. The brother is like the Pharisees who were angry and resentful that sinners were being welcomed into God’s kingdom by this itinerant rabbi. They thought they had sacrificed so much and had done so much for God that it just wasn’t fair. It’s easy to resent God’s gracious forgiveness of others whom we consider to be far worse sinners than ourselves. People who repent after leading notoriously sinful lives are often held in suspicion and churches are sometimes unwilling to admit them to membership. Instead, we should rejoice like the angels in heaven when an unbeliever repents and turns to God. Like the father in our parable, accept repentant sinners wholeheartedly and give them the support and encouragement that they need to grow in Christ.
If you are refusing to forgive someone, forget about it! You’re missing a wonderful opportunity to experience joy and share it with others. Make your joy grow, forgive somebody who has hurt you. Forgive them today, welcome them back with open arms. Celebrate the return of a restored relationship. And, if you’ve wandered away and squandered what you had, it’s not too late to come home, to return to a relationship and the life that God the Father wants you to have. God’s love is reaching out no matter why or how you are lost.
Please pray with me.
Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling for you and for me. He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Don’t tarry when Jesus is pleading, do not linger or fail to heed his mercies, the mercies he has for you and for me. Don’t let another moment pass for the shadows are gathering and the end of our times are coming, coming for you and for me. O for the wonderful love he has promised, even though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, mercy and pardon for you and for me. Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner come home. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.