The Father’s Love

Transcribed from the sermon preached June 15, 2014

The Reverend Zira Bungsut

Scripture Readings: Luke 15:11-32

 

Happy Father’s Day! It is a great honor for me to stand here on a very special day, “Father’s day”, to share the word of God with you. Being a father I am thankful that I am here to celebrate Father’s Day with you. As we all know, this day has been a special day for people in the United States. It was first celebrated during the early part of the 20th century and has since been 1972 has been an official national holiday. We may not celebrate it as majestically as we do mother’s day, but we are going to remember this day because I (a father) am going to share with you about “The father’s love” as found in Luke 15. Let us meditate on the words of God to consider how great the love of God, our father is!

The parable of Jesus as found in Luke 15:11-32 is interpreted differently in different contexts. The most popular traditional reading has been: “Parable of the Prodigal Son/Lost Son.” Nancy J. Duff argues that the parable can be designated“the parable of the elder brother” just as it is usually referred to as “the parable of the Prodigal Son.”However, it is clear that the parable is about the “Father’s love” in which the central figure and the focus of the narrative is the father.The text explicitly tells that the father’s love reaches both the sons and it is in the umbrella of the father’s love and forgiveness that life should be celebrated.

The parable as found in the Gospel of Luke is addressed to Pharisees and Scribes. Having portrayed Jesus instructing the crowds concerning various conditions of discipleship (14:25-35), Jesus now addresses the Pharisees and the Scribes with more parables. The Pharisees and the Scribes are those who grumbled at his welcoming tax collectors and sinners and his dining with them (15:2). The story is found together with other two parables, the parable of the lost Sheep (vv. 1-7) and the lost Coin (vv 8-10). The third story, the parable of the father’s love (15:11-32), is one of the most popular known parables of the gospels. It contains two episodes of continuing stories, the first focusing on the prodigal, the younger son (vv. 11-24), and the second on the elder brother (vv.25-32). Both parts of the story focus first on the son and then on the father and are carefully arranged to show how the father’s love encompasses both the two sons.

The father divides property (vv. 11-12)

The parable opens with the younger son’s request to have the share of his property. At the request of the younger son, the Father divided his property between them. In a Jewish context the younger brother would receive half of what his elder brother received, and in Jewish thinking a father should not divide the estate too early. Nevertheless, in this parable the father grants the son’s request. Here is a paradoxical question. Why does a God-like father divide his possessions too early between his sons? Whatever the reason may be, the father allows “freedom” for his son. He gives him a free-hand to choose his own life.

 

The younger son’s sojourn and return (vv. 13-24)

The younger son gathers his wealth. He travels to a distance country and he squanders his inheritance with dissolute living, perhaps even spending his money on the prostitutes as the elder brother says in verse 30. His financial failure comes following natural disaster. Famine strikes the land, and he is in need. He goes and hires himself out to one of the citizens of that country. He ends up feeding swine, a job of great dishonor for a Jew. The worse condition of the younger son is shown by the expression “he longed to be fed with the pods” (v.16). In some versions it says, “He longed to fill his belly” which may indicate that the younger son was not even allowed to eat the pig’s food. The son was starving. Now the younger son comes to himself. He realizes that even the servants in his father’s house have enough to eat while he is about to die. He decides to go back and ask for forgiveness. His self-realization is reflected in the form of confession of sin and recognition that he has forfeited his position as son.

We have more detailed description of the character of the father when the son comes home. He spells out his words of repentance and confession as he has rehearsed. But the son never actually finishes his carefully rehearsed speech. The father’s reaction is described in rush of verbs that move rapidly from seeing, being filled with compassion, and kissing. The father does not wait for explanations and confessions. The son proceeds with his confession, but the father interrupts. He has no chance to speak as he has rehearsed, except the last proposal “I sinned against heaven and you, and I am not worthy to be called your son,” (v.21). The father’s response is the opposite. He orders the servants to bring the best robe, a ring, and sandals which are signs that the father honors his son. A fattened calf is prepared; it is a day of celebration with a great feast. The son again gets the privilege of being treated as a son. How great is the love of the father who not only forgives but also crowns his son with honor.

 

The father and the elder son (vv. 25-32)

There is a development of narrative plot from the father’s house to the field where the elder brother stays. Each brother starts a journey back to the family home. The elder son has been laboring in the field, so he has missed all the action. Here is an irony in a literary space. The brother who had been on the outside is now on the inside, while the brother who had been on the inside is now on the outside. Returning home, he hears music and dancing. The elder brother’s scornful reaction to the celebration is shown by his refusal to enter. The servant reports to him what is happening. The elder brother now knows that his younger brother has returned and his father has killed the fatted calf. He is angry. Just as he stepped out at the return of the younger son (v.20), the loving father steps out, ignoring his own dignity and position.In spite of the Father’s plea to come in, the elder son states his case in strong words that accuses the father as well as the younger son. By the usual criteria of justice and fairness, the elder son has spelled out his case. He speculates that the younger brother has wasted his money on harlots. Yet, the father now receives the elder son just as he received the younger son, who disgraced his father.

Though not addressed by his son as “father,” the father uses an affectionate form of address “Son.”He takes the complaint seriously but does not concede its validity. He responds to his elder son with a key statement about this family’s economy: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” There has been no displacement of the elder son: his place at the father’s side is as secure as ever. And his inheritance as the first born remains the same. But all have to celebrate the younger’s son return as he is a son who is lost but now is found. In the household of the father all have to celebrate without jealousy.

The parable of the Father’s love in Luke 15:11-32 tells of a family relationship in which the Father’s love is in the central place. The story is told to the Pharisees and Scribes who are critical about Jesus’ association with sinners and tax collectors. The younger brother who wasted his inheritance with dissolute living dishonored his father. He now celebrated inside the father’s house. The elder brother who served his father too dishonored his father for refusing to enter the house. He is now outside the house. But the love of the father embraces both of them – who dishonored their father in different ways. The parable shows that only when God is worshipped as the father and when all the participants are in the family of the Father, there is celebration of life.

Let us consider the following

This parable illustrates the great love of the father in a family. It reminds us how far and how deeply should we reflect love in our family. Are we reflecting the love of God that embraces both the sinners and the righteous? In our family are we ready to mend broken relationships with our children, our brothers and sisters or with our parents? Also in this family of St. John’s can we become like this loving father? How shall we reflect the love of God the father to the broken world and people, who not only dropped out the church, but also dropped out life?

Do we know that our Lord, the father, is a loving God who gives us free hand to choose our ways, who gives us properties, talents, and potentialities? How do we make use of our freedom and resources? Are we running away from him? Are we responsible to ourselves and to our God, who created us to do good things in our lives? Are we at a distance from God, far away in a Gentile land where we cannot celebrate life? Let us use our property given to us by our God to make life meaningful.

This parable is about the love of God, our father. We are all accepted to enjoy love with fullness of life.Are we ready to celebrate the love of God by coming back to him? The loving kindness of our Father is so great that we can celebrate life without fear and anxiety. Do we accept him as our loving father with whom we should celebrate life? The Lord, our father is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast Love.