The Prodigal Son

Bible Text: Luke 15:15-32

+In Nomine Jesu+


“It would really be better for everyone if you would just drop dead.

I’ll get my share of the property; my brother will get his:

and we can all finally move along.”


And right then, there on the spot, without a word of protest, the father does just that.

He drops dead.

Or, as it is written in the Gospel text: “He divided his property between them.”


Legally speaking, the sons don’t inherit a dime until dad dies.

That’s why it’s called an inheritance.

And when the younger son asks for his share ahead of time,

he’s telling his father to just get on with it.


So when dear ol’ dad said, “Thy will be done.”

He was so shocked, we’re told that the son actually stuck around for a few days before leaving town.

Maybe it was shock, or maybe he was just counting his money.

But a few days later, he is gone to a far country.

We’re not told where exactly so we’ll use a made up name…like…Vegas.

The son went to Vegas.


And after betting everything on red,

he discovered that the world outside his father’s house is not exactly graceful.

Hung over, tired, broke, starving, and desperate,

the son sells himself out for shameful work

The kind of work that, if his father could see him,

would make him roll over in his freshly dug, proverbial grave.


But when he came to himself, he got a great idea.

“If I’m going to work, I might as well go back to my dad’s estate, and work there.

There’s room and board, and even a benefits package!


He’s probably upset about me telling him to die, so I’ll have to have a good line.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

“Perfect! He’ll buy that.”

And he arose and headed toward home, rehearsing his lines along the way.


But while he was still a long, long, long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion,

and ran toward him in a sprint!


The son’s eyes opened wide in amazement.

He’d never seen his father run before!


Honorable men don’t run. Rich men don’t run.

Yet there he was, pants hiked up, robe flying behind him,

closing the great distance with speed quite uncommon to dead men.


And when the son recovered from his astonishment.

As soon as he found a fraction of a second in which he wasn’t being smothered by his Father’s hugs and kisses he spit out his practiced confession:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

Period. Full stop.


Even if it was contrived, the son has said the only true thing he can say.

And the father won’t hear another word.

He interrupts him.

The father cuts him off right there to save his son from a false confession,

from a confession that would end in an empty and hopeless proposition:

“Treat me as one of your hired servants.”


The son thought that he could work his way back into his father’s graces –

that he could earn what could only be given;

and if that failed, at least he could get by working in the fields as a slave.


Naturally, we see ourselves here.

We’re the baptized children of God, who have been given absolutely everything.

And then, we go and squander it.

In Christ, our Father has spoken kindly to us,

and we return that favor by speaking ill of others.

He has given us extravagant resources, which we have, in-turn horded for ourselves.

He has given us parents, who we disrespect and disobey.


But then comes Sunday morning, and a well-rehearsed confession.


The prodigal’s planned confession might have been a big conniving, but one thing is sure: it came from a place of absolute desperation.


Most of us, if we’re honest, don’t feel that way.

We mouth the words we know so well, and maybe, if we’re being attentive,

we feel bad about a couple of poor decisions,

but that’s really about it.


You’re not feeling crushed by the weight of your sin, and yearning for release.

If you were, if we were, every pastor would need two extra days in every week to accommodate all the Christians seeking individual confession and absolution.

The place where you can safely name your sins, and hear them removed by name.


Even that, unfortunately, comes with the sad temptation to think oneself more forgiven than the guy who just waited for the general absolution on Sunday morning.


But despite the appearances, this parable is not about our half-sincere attempts at repentance and promises to shape-up.

Thanks be to God, this is a parable about God’s radical, ridiculous grace.


This parable is about God seeing us, his children, a long, long way off,

with half-baked confessions, empty pockets and empty promises.

And he comes chasing us down.

He let’s us say the only true thing we can say.

“I’m unworthy to be called your son.”


But then he cuts us off.

‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’

You heard it already today.

God spoke: “I forgive you all you sins

in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


And they began to celebrate.


Because the new life of grace is one where God throws a party!

Because there is everything to rejoice over!


You were dead, and now you’re alive!

You were lost, and now you’re found.
What’s not to love?


There is one thing.

Truth be told, grace and forgiveness, great as they are, don’t make a lot of sense.

They might work all right for God, or in parables, but they’re certainly not practical.


Even though we owe every ounce of our existence to forgiveness and grace,

when it comes to others, we really prefer justice.

For them to get what they deserve.

Which is exactly why the second son comes unhinged.


Coming in from working faithfully in the field, the smoke hits his nose.

“I smell a barbeque!

I hear music the royal music!


The King isn’t paying us a visit.

And I’m not getting married.”

By the way, those are the two reasons you would kill the fattened calf.

And if neither of those things is happening, then why the celebration?!

Hey!‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ So let’s go in!


But he was angry and refused to go in.

His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father,

‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command,

yet you never gave me even a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.

But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’


It’s the easiest thing to hold on to a grudge,

to be mad when it seems like your brother is getting away with murder

Because he is.

And so are you.

For if you hate anyone in your heart you are guilty of murder too.

But the Father’s wish is that you let it go.

He wants you to come in to the party so much,

but not if you’re gonna bring everyone down with these crazy demands for justice.


This isn’t a courtroom.

This is the Church!

And everything here is forgiven.

So there is nothing to be angry about.


‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive;

he was lost, and is found.’”


You, the baptized, have been washed and named to be God’s very own children

not with plain water, but water that flows from Christ’s side on the cross,

where He purchases you from bondage, where he wins you back,

and brings you home.

And all that he has is yours.


This story of God’s overwhelming Grace is everything.

It is the prince of the parables.

It is so rich and deep, that I could never say it all.


But if you’re anything at all like the Prodigal Son, you’d like to go home today as well.

Which is just fine.

After all, the kingdom of heaven is not a lecture hall.

It’s a party.

On to the feast.

+In Nomine Jesu+

About Pastor Hopkins