Fourth Sunday in Lent
And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
He still does.
Last night I contemplated ending the sermon there. He still does.
“He receives sinners and eats with them.” It was meant to be an accusation against Him. They imply thereby that Jesus condones sin, when in reality he forgives it, and there is a difference there. Jesus forgives sins, He forgives sinners. He does this most often when he receives them and eats with them, when he receives them at His Table and feeds them with a feast of forgiveness in His Body and Blood.
He still does.
And many today see this as condoning of sin. No, it is forgiving sins because in the end that is the only answer to sin, forgiveness. Really, there is nothing else to be done with it. You may be able to more or less avoid some of the more crass outbreaks of it that are harmful to everyone around you and yourself included. But there you aren’t going to avoid sinning. This is the point of the parable. Or at least one of them.
Who sinned here? The older brother or the younger? The younger brother becomes the hero of the story in the parable. But probably not so much in real life. In reality there is probably a lot more of the older brother in all of us than we care to admit. That though is coming from me, the older brother. Of course in my family, I’m also known as the one who quite literally left home, and wound up feeding pigs. But that is another story. Who sinned? Both.
I don’t think any of us here would condone asking for your inheritance early, that is to say, telling your dad he is dead to you. The idea of running off and squandering our money in as Jesus says reckless living. Though haven’t you dreamed? I bet you have once or twice dreamed of what it would be like to just go, get away from it all, and blow it all on some beach, perhaps in Mexico. Maybe the last time your vacation was coming to a close, and you were faced with returning to a cubicle in the middle of a smog filled city, the hum of florescent lights drowning you in monotony as they fade your hard earned suntan, and the thought crosses your mind. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stay here?” It just isn’t acceptable until your sixty five. But then you have grandkids you want to see. But you have dreamed haven’t you, perhaps not a reckless life, but a carefree one.
We really don’t know what this reckless life was like for the younger brother. Perhaps we conjure up images similar to those of the jealous older brother, who accuses his younger brother of squandering his father’s fortune on prostitutes. Reckless living Jesus says. Women, wine, and song as they say. I have to admit many sordid images and fantasies of the flesh are conjured up there. The self destructive side of me can have a wild imagination. If there were just no consequences huh? Evidently this younger brother lived that life vicariously for the older brothers imagination. I mean, how does the older brother know what the younger brother has been up to. Except at night when he lays down to bed alone, he gets angry at being trapped. Doing the older brother thing. Taking over the farm like a dutiful son, what is expected. Wishes he could be like his younger brother able to choose his own destiny, to run off and be free. He gets angry at his younger brother because the younger did what he dare not. He broke free. And what would I be doing now? That must be what my younger brother is doing right now, that imbecile, blowing his money on prostitutes after drinking all day in the bar. How dare he do what I would do?
And all the while the Father would arrange for him to marry anyone of the nice young girls in the village. Give him, perhaps he already has, a wife worth loving and caring for, a woman who makes him happy, cooks his meals, satisfies his needs and desires, does the things of a loving wife and mother. Far better for any man then a one night stand. All the while the Father is there offering all that one ever needs. And the older brother is jealous of the one night stand the younger brother might be having. Jealous of his brother’s sin. Jealous of an empty selfish reckless life, a life without care, a life so selfish it has scorned even the Father’s love and care. Jealous of a life that could end nowhere but where it has because it was lived without care or love for others, so others cared not and loved not in return, sent him to the fields to feed pigs. He refused to be loved, so he would not have to love. But there at rock bottom, he remembers love. There when the world has lost its charm, and the carefree life, has sucked the care to live from his very soul, he remembers love, he remembers life. He returns to the Father.
Now the older brother, the Pharisee, upset that he has had to live this life in the father’s house, where he has been loved like a son, is jealous that the Father celebrates the return of the younger son. Jealous that sins are forgiven. Jealous that the Father receives him and eats with him. But it is fitting to celebrate, and the father will, because the Son, receives sinners, receives you, and eats with them, he gives you a feast, much better than the fatted calf, the paschal lamb of forgiveness.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.