|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 8, 2016 at 12:35 AM|
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
This morning, we find ourselves at the table with Jesus, where he’s enjoying the company of the wrong people. The people who weren’t good enough for an invitation anywhere else. The people who were too poor or too rowdy or who were caught up in a profession that wasn’t all that good and holy. And we know Jesus didn’t just do this once- it kind of became a habit. He kept eating with these kind of people and had the audacity to treat them like actual human beings.
And the good people got ticked off. And they’re doing what good people too often do- grumble and complain, wondering why Jesus would waste his time and risk his reputation on these unclean ones. And I’m sure that Jesus got tired of explaining himself and getting into a debate that would never end, so he just shut them up with story. A story they had to live into and find themselves in.
And it’s a story that we know so well we barely hear it anymore. It’s about a family with an irresponsible son and a father who is embarrassingly good. So good that people probably ridiculed him because he was willing to welcome back his messed up son who had wasted every last scrap of what his father had given him. And he didn’t just let him come home to stay- he ran out to meet him and gave him gifts that he was too irresponsible to be trusted with. Instead of giving this son a lecture and some strict rules, he gives him love and celebration.
And the folks listening to the story probably thought- “This is exactly the kind of crap we’re complaining about, Jesus. Enjoying people before they do right. That’s irresponsible. It’s unfair. They deserve a lecture, not a welcome.“
But Jesus just smiled. Because this story wasn’t about what was good or moral or even deserved- it is about what was needed. This was a father who knew his sons. Loved his sons. And he knew a lecture wasn’t going to change a darn thing. Lectures you can tune out. But you can’t fully tune out love, even when you want to. Love breaks your heart open.
So at that moment, when his son was broken and hungry and ashamed, the father knew he couldn’t bear a lecture. Couldn’t bear the coldness of his father merely being polite in letting him come back. He couldn’t be welcomed back into a relationship unless his father did something so full of obvious love that it took his breath away and took him against his will back into this family that he had no business being a part of.
There would be time for hard words to the younger son. There would be time for him to hear what was expected of him, time to make amends. There would be time to bear fruit worthy of a son of so loving a father. But when he was hurting and broken, he needed love first. He needed someone to take complete joy in his presence and honor him for all that he would become. He needed an embrace that ran out to meet him.
You see, these are not the ONLY words of the father to this son, but they are the words that are needed in the moment. Because when we are broken, God gives us what we need, rather than what we deserve.
This is how Jesus’ love always is for the one who is falling apart, who has drifted far away, who has messed up. And this is something we rejoice in. And it’s usually the part of the story that we talk about. But I don’t think it’s the main reason Jesus told it. Because he told it to people a whole lot more like the elder brother. Those who were asking, “so what about us? “
What is the love for those who have stuck around? Who have tried to follow and not done a horrible job at it? What about us who have worked hard to be faithful? We’re not perfect, we’ve done some bad stuff, but like him we may not have done something so publicly bad and wasteful and sinful like this other guy. And sure, all sins are the supposed to be the same and we’ve lied and coveted and stuff, but can’t we get past being politically correct and just admit that we haven’t made as many bad choices, we may ask.
But Jesus just keeps telling the story. The story of the elder brother, the one who is supposed to know better and behave better. The one who has hung around the father long enough that he should have known his heart by now.
And instead of celebrating that his dad was doing the thing his dad did best- welcoming and celebrating and loving without limit- the elder brother can only see his father wasting his inheritance on a kid who was immature and irresponsible. Wasting his goodness on someone that wasn’t worth it. Instead of this brother understanding that HE is also loved by a father whose love is good enough and wide enough to love even his idiot brother, the elder brother just sees unfairness.
But thankfully, even though this brother wants to live by what s fair and wants to pout outside the party, this loving father doesn’t treat the older brother like he deserves, either. He deserves to be ignored and left outside because of his questioning of his father. But the father knows he needs his dad to come to him again. To assure him of the love that he’s questioning.
It may be a quieter assurance, not as much of a celebration as he was hoping for, but his father reminds him, “I delight in you. I delight when you follow me and live wth me. I love you so much that even in the midst of a party for your brother, I am standing here with you, loving you and inviting you to celebrate with me. But right now we need to rejoice. Because we have family that you thought was gone forever. You have a brother to share your life with. I dearly want you to be family to each other and to know how much I love each of you. Sitting down to the table with me isn't about deserving it. It's about enjoying the love I give you. And enjoying me. And you don't get to do that when you're keeping score! So get over yourself and let me love how I will love. Enjoy this love instead of trying to control it. And get yourself inside to this feast!”
They seem like harsh words, not extravagantly loving ones, for a son who had done all the responsible things. But they are the only words to break through this brother’s pride and open his heart to the father’s love. The point is not to focus on following all the rules so perfectly, the father says. The point is to love who I love and to be family together. That’s what I want more than anything. So quit your being responsible and just love your brother!
And just as the older brother is left with his mouth wide open in surprise, I’m sure the good religious people were left speechless. Because Jesus says what simply does not make sense. Jesus tells all the rule-abiding folk that their relationship to these ones he’s eating with is what really matters. God is the father who loves both his sons so desperately that their relationship to each other and to him is more important than their virtue.
So all these folks I’m eating with are your family, Jesus says, whether you like it or not. They are your nutty, inconvenient, irresponsible family. And you may do all sorts of good things in the world, live by all sorts of good rules, but if you don’t recognize these as your brothers and sisters and know the love I have for them, you don’t really know who I am. And then you don’t get to enjoy how good my love is. So get to know your brothers and sisters, they can tell you about how good my love is. They can tell you how extravagantly good it is to be welcomed when you don’t deserve it or don’t ever think you will be welcomed. Learn about my love from them. And then celebrate with them. Because then you can celebrate with me.
Because there’s a party. It’s happening whether you like it or not. I’m going to keep loving your brother and you like this even if you think it’s a bad idea. So come and eat and enjoy the love that you get to live in and come meet the rest of your family who gets to live in this love with you.