Sun, 24 February 2019
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
We are called to live a life of love; to bring healing, reconciliation, and harmonious joy to the world. This is the goal of every good person, and the reason we gather here every Sunday.
So why is it that the world is still broken? Even harder, why do we – who are committed to this way of life – still find our own lives so troubling and chaotic; often devoid of the peace we crave?
We are devoted to Christ, to His Gospel of light and love; why do we not enjoy the resilient joy that God promised to us, His children? We can understand why the people outside these doors are troubled by chaos, but us? We are not like them. They do not go to Church the way we do, they do not honor marriage the way we do, they do not work hard the way we do. They bring the chaos into their lives through the bad choices they make; but us? We have chosen a different way.
Yes, that is right, as we discussed last week: we are the Pharisee. Because we have grown up with the parable of the Publican and Pharisee, we often dress our self-righteous piety up in the clothes of the Publican (“Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!”, we say as we wear our long phylacteries - I mean prayer ropes - so everyone can note our holiness). And when we reject the accusation that we are Pharisees (“I am not like them; I do this, I do that”!), we are sincere; we are not acting.
Our egos are protesting in earnest, defending us from the kind of painful introspection and sacrifice that is required for true repentance. Unfortunately, that same painful introspection, hard work, and repentance have to happen in order for the grace of God to stay with us, to bring us lasting peace, and to allow us to bring that peace to others.
Until then, even our words of peace are just more weapons that cause damage to those around us; they are clanging gongs that bring even more noise and spiritual pollution to a world that is already so heavy with it.
Last week, the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee challenged us to look at all our actions and reactions so that we can begin to see the way we are the Pharisee. I challenged us to look at how our egos work to blind us to the truth about ourselves. Today I encourage us to continue that work, but I want to add another discipline: to notice how our pride (our brokenness) blinds us to the truth about the people around us. The people we are called to serve. The people we are called to love and harmonize with.
Last week, the Pharisee's pride allowed him only to focus on the Publican's profession and miss the most important part of his constitution – his humility – and what was going on in his life – he was in the midst of such a profound change that he left “justified” and open to God's grace. How could he miss that? The same way we miss such things every moment of every day. And as a result, we are closed off to really enjoying – much less spreading – God's grace.
This week we have the same lesson; the Older Brother could only see his brother – the brother being saved! - through his own self-righteousness, for what it meant to him.
We are the Pharisee in last week's Gospel. We are the Older Brother in today's.
We aren't alone. This parable is part of a series of lessons Jesus gave after he heard the people of his day complaining that; He – Jesus Christ; “receives sinners and eats with them.” Looking back, we find it hard to believe that these people would be so selfish that they would not want God – or anyone who claimed to act in His name - to bring His love to people who they knew darn well did not deserve it.
We see that and, knowing that we are the ones He came to eat with, thank Him for sharing His meal with us. We see the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees for what it is; self-satisfying judgment designed to prop up their own sense of holiness. Lord have mercy, how could they be so blind? Thank you, Jesus, that we are not like them!
Oh wait. We've done it again.
Christ used to parables of searching out and finding the lost sheep and the lost coin; as well as the parables of the Publican and the Pharisee and the parable of the Prodigal Son to teach the Scribes and Pharisees to see the people they were complaining about with new eyes and to see – and celebrated and help with - what He was trying to accomplish in their lives. We saw them as they were. He knew them. He loved them. And He worked for their salvation.
He is now trying to do the same thing for us.
We have accepted Christ. We have lived the life of the Prodigal and come back home. We are so thankful that He has forgiven us and given us a new life. This is the story of our lives, right? Well, it is ... but as soon as we are back our egos try to come back and we become the older brother. The one who feels at home in his father's house and is so selfish that he cannot see his own bitterness or celebrate the return of his lost brother, much less participate in his continuing salvation now that he was back. A sane and loving brother would have run out with the father and shared in the joy of their reunion and would have sacrificed to make him welcome.
We notice all the times that we are not welcomed, but do we notice the way that we judge and reject people in need? We notice the times that the world is hard and how much joy we have when we ourselves find comfort in the Lord, but do we notice the suffering of our brother and celebrate when he finds similar comfort? Do we offer that same comfort to him? If we only think of ourselves as the Prodigal, we will be stuck in an endless cycle of falling down and getting up. There is a sense in which this is the essence of the life in Christ, but it is not the goal. The goal is not to be the Prodigal Son; the goal isn't even to stop being a Pharisee or the older brother. The goal is – through the tears of the Publican and the repentance of Prodigal - to become like the Father.
To become like the Father who is so secure in Grace that He is constantly looks for opportunities to share that grace with others. Who sees everyone as a person to be loved and gently but persistently works for their good and He is the one who celebrates every time that good is achieved.
The religious people of Christ's day had a hard time getting this message. They continued to see themselves as righteous and thus keeping their hearts closed to the changes they needed to make. We are like that, too. And until we recognize that, until we see ourselves as being the Pharisee as much as we are the Publican, and as much Older Brother as Prodigal Son, we deceive ourselves and miss the opportunity to live and share a life of joy.
The Lord is here now. He sees us as we really are. He knows us, and He loves us. He wants to eat with us and all the other sinners here; so that we may be saved.
Despite the fact that we have been like the Publican by cooperating with the fallen powers of this world to oppress others; and like the Prodigal by squandering so many opportunities; and like the Publican and Older Brother in our selfishness and willful blindness;
He is here and He is running out to us, celebrating our willingness to reject our sins, our blindness, and our self-righteousness and our desire to live the kind of perfect life that our Father – His Father does; the kind of life that is made possible through Christ our Lord.