How Do You Relate?
Old Testament Reading- Isaiah 61:10
New Testament Reading- 1 John 3:1
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -August 1, 2021
Jesus was being followed by large crowds of people and gathered all around Him were tax collectors and “sinners.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were also there but, separated from the “sinners,” in fact, they were grumbling about Jesus saying, “How can He welcome sinners and eat with them?” This was one of three parables He told them-
these words are from Luke 15:11-32:
“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
"When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So, he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So, he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Who speaks to you most in this parable? The father or one of the two sons? Possibly you can relate to multiple, or at least you could in some parts of your life. Maybe you can’t relate to anyone in the story but the ones at the party, I doubt it, as I think that most of us can relate or empathize with the characters in Jesus’ story.
In the context of when Jesus told the story He was surrounded by all types of people, some labeled “sinners,” and others labeled “righteous.” I would like to point out though that the labeling wasn’t being done by Jesus and I don’t think it was being done by the “sinners” either. The “righteous” or should we say “self-righteous” were the ones doing the labeling. Jesus said He did not come to judge people, but to save them. I wonder though, if He had put true labels on people, I bet the labeling would look a lot different. Jesus told this story to illustrate to the listeners that God’s love is much different than how people often love each other.
How many of you feel like the younger son? Maybe you had a wild life in your youth and you did some things you are not proud of or maybe you did not honor your parents in life and now that they are gone and you are older, you regret your words and actions.
In the story, a man has two sons, and the younger son leaves home with his entire inheritance and lives recklessly until the money is all gone. After living a life that felt like the pigs, he was imagining his brother had it better than him. He decides to humble up and go home, face his father, tell him he is sorry and ask if he could just stay as a servant. How many of you feel like the younger son? Maybe you had a wild life in your youth and you did some things you are not proud of or maybe you did not honor your parents in life and now that they are gone and you are older, you regret your words and actions.
When the younger son returns, he repents and does not expect his father to take him back as a son, but as a servant. The father hugs him and kisses him, he thought that his son was surely dead, and now here he stands alive, ragged, but alive. He orders rings on his fingers and the finest clothes on his back and has a party for him, fit for a king. How many of you relate to the father? I will say that if you have children you learn to forgive things that you wouldn’t have before, love just does that. Would you have accepted the younger son’s apology and forgiven him, taking him back as an honored son or would you have told him to turn on his heel and beat feet out of there before you turned the dogs on him?
The older son comes home after working all day and finds this party going on and behold it is for his no account little brother who was going to eat, drink, and be merry and who left home with not even a goodbye so many years ago. No way is this older brother going into this party and when his father pleads with him to come in and join them, he says, “So I guess I could have gone away and squandered all the money and lived a baseless life and then just come back and all is forgiven?” “Come on father, wake up, fair is fair.” “Throw him out and me and my friends, the ones that do everything right will finish the party.” “Let him go back and live with the pigs.” “He made his bed, now let him lay in it.” Maybe you feel like the older son? Maybe you have been the one that always did what was right and responsible while everyone else went out and had fun? You missed out on the fun, now when is it your turn, no one deserves it like you do, right?
Jesus likened the older son to the Pharisees, the younger son to the “sinners,” and the father to God. The Pharisees were “self-righteous,” arrogant, and unwilling to see that they were sinners too and in need of God’s forgiveness. The “sinners” were the foreigners, sick and disabled, widows, gentiles, criminals, and all others who were marginalized by ancient Jewish society. Many Jews believed that those that were marginalized must have sinned against God and that was why they were experiencing these problems. It never dawned on them to be good to people like that because if God has taken away their blessings, then why should they have anything to do with them. Jesus shows us an example of God in the story and that He loves both sons equally. Yes, the older had never gone away and was always responsible, but the younger son is home again, not looking for more money to go out and spend again, he has learned his lesson and now he is home for good.
I am willing to bet that each of us, if you really think about it, have had times in our lives when we can relate to both sons and the father. As we relate to the sons, we all should come to the realization that we all need forgiveness from God, because whether we want to face it or not, we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. When we relate to the father, we should see an image of what forgiveness is like and that we would not want to be the type that would have sent this humbled broken son away.
Our society is going through a lot of what I call growing pains right now, where the norms of the past 100 years are being re-written in ways that some people don’t like. Fear does that, we don’t like what we fear or what we don’t know. Single moms and dads, homosexuality, transvestites, racism, the “me too” movement for women, white shaming, the list goes on and on. These are the marginalized in our time, I believe they are the people that Jesus would have been sitting with while all the church goers were standing in the corner with their arms crossed grumbling words of contempt. Remember what Jesus did with the prostitute that was brought before Him to be stoned to death. He said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Let us let God do the judging, shall we? I know I am not qualified, and I can say without hesitating, neither are any of us. Only God knows what makes a person do and say the things they do, but do not worry God will set all things how they should be, I’m not sure what that will look like, but I trust in the Lord that He does, and that it is all in His hands.
"Single moms and dads, homosexuality, transvestites, racism, the 'me too' movement for women, white shaming, the list goes on and on. These are the marginalized in our time, I believe they are the people that Jesus would have been sitting with while all the church goers were standing in the corner with their arms crossed grumbling words of contempt." ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty
Think about this parable this week and what each character speaks to you in your life. Jesus told this story for a reason, and it isn’t just for the people of that time, for it is just as relevant today.
So, who do you most relate to?
If you relate to the younger son, I pray that you become content with what you are provided in life.
If you relate to the older son, I pray that you can learn forgiveness and learn that God loves all His children, even the sinners.
Finally, if you relate to the father, then you are on the right track and not far from God in your heart and mind.
God loves us unconditionally and He wants every one of us to listen to this story and learn that in the end, love is all that matters. Thanks be to God! Amen.