6 March 2016
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4C (RCL)
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
This is a bit of a hurried entry – lots going on this week.
A younger brother (if there were two brothers) would have stood to inherit a third of his father’s property. The elder brother would inherit two thirds. When Esau sold his birthright, he was selling his claim on that extra portion of Isaac’s property. The blessing was something else.
When Luke’s (Jewish) readers heard this story, their minds would have gone back to all of the old stories of elder and younger brothers. When the younger brother asks for his share of the property, he is essentially telling his father, “You are dead to me.” In morning prayer, we have been reading the story of Joseph in Egypt, and this morning read the reunion of Joseph and Jacob — Joseph had been dead to Jacob. The emotion in the story would resonate for hearer’s of Luke’s story.
The younger brother “comes to himself” in his self-imposed exile, and remembers his need of his father. He is willing to be counted a hired hand, but the father restores him to his place as a son. The elder son makes essentially the same mistake by his refusal to come to the party. He has every right to be angry, because his father’s property now again has to be divided to include the younger brother in the inheritance. He just lost a third of what he was expecting to inherit. But, notice, he was looking at his father only in terms of what he would inherit. The father is correct in saying “Everything of mine is yours.” The elder son could have been living joyfully with his father in the present, rather than waiting for his father’s death.
Our mistake is to think that what we have is ours, whether that is wealth or even salvation. What we have is gift, both to be received and to be shared. The purpose of the father’s wealth is the enjoyment of his children and his household (the hired hands). If we’re seeing our religion as our ticket to heaven, where we can finally enjoy the presence of God, we’re doing it wrong.
What counts for the father is the fullness of the household, its completion. Paul makes a similar point in 2 Corinthians. Everything has become new, and we should celebrate. And recognizing our need of God then makes us ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation. The party won’t be complete until all are invited in. God has entrusted this ministry to us.