Note: This is #1 in a series of posts. If you have not read the Foreword to the series, I hope you will do that first: Foreward
We start this series off by looking intently at all the words Jesus uses to paint this rather colorful picture and we also look at the words Jesus did not directly say, but rather, “inferred.” And we w do that by looking at this very first sentence of this parable: “The parable of the Great Teacher.”
In our own congregation we have a man who hopefully will soon have two sons. And we look at that young family and one of the things we may well wonder is, how will these little boys grow up? What will they be? Good, bad, average? Successful? Unsuccessful? And we realize that a lot of the answers lie in how they shall be raised, and how much education they will have and what will they do with their education. There are some traits which you can control and there are some beyond your power. We use the word “spoiled” in a passive sense. That is, we spoil children, they do not come spoiled nor do they spoil themselves. Children of college trained parents have the tendency to go to college themselves. Beyond that, parents who highly value a college education will see to it that their children at least have the chance to attend college. What will the two boys become? It is partly our doing and it is partly theirs. The examples we set before them, the path we help them to walk, the expectations we place upon them, as parents, will determine a whole lot of what indeed they shall become.
The phrase, “A man had two sons”, can lead us to think about all these questions. It is a concern for the parents, but it is a concern also for us. These two boys are also a part of our extended family which we call “The congregation.” Naturally, we share with the parents the wish, the hope, the desire, and the prayer that everything will be as it should be.
As Jesus told this parable 2000 years ago His listeners may well have pondered many of these same questions. A man had two sons. And how did the parents raise them? What part did the congregation, that is, in their sense, the village, play in shaping these young boys? What more could they have done? How differently might they have taught them? What might they have said along the way to shape them this way or that?
Now they didn’t have the same educational system we have today but they still had some form of advanced schooling. They had lawyers in one sense of the word, priests and doctors. There were the tradesmen: the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker. But most importantly, there were the parents. “Train up a child in the way that he shall go, and when he is older, he will not depart from it.” This was a word which the listeners of Jesus knew and knew well.
And the father was a trainer. He had taught them the rules of life. He had taught them about his farming, which he expected they would both take up. He had taught them religion. There was always to be a sense of right and wrong. He had taught them about being a big businessman, about how to treat servants and hired hands. He, being wealthy, had taught them the social graces. He had taken them to town and taught them how to do business with the town’s people. These were his sons and they were also his students. He was their father and also their teacher—just like every parent here this evening.
I have been a teacher and I have been a parent. And of course, like all of you, I have been a student. I went through high school and then I went through tech school in the army. I have taken college courses both before and after the seminary. I have graduated from our seminary and I have taken post seminary studies. But I will never forget one seminary professor, who on the last day of school said, “Today is when we take our final test to see if you pass your class. And I want you to know that you will be graded on how you score. But then, so will I, for your grade tells me how well I taught you!”
“A student is not above his teacher”, said Jesus, “but when he is fully taught, he will be like his teacher.” That is a sobering thought!
My mother used to look at some of the things which kids did and say, “What kind of parents do they have, to act this way?” Children are not just a reflection of their parents, but they are a reflection of their parents’ ability to teach them right from wrong of how to succeed, or how to fail. Of course, this isn’t true in every case, in every sense, but as an over all, I think it is pretty much true. We either bring shame, or honor to our parents in most situations.
Well, let’s look at the parable. A man had two sons and one turned his back on the father and everything he stood for. He went from bad to worse and finally lived in a pig sty! He wasted his money on loose living. The other son, on the other hand, was cold, unloving, unforgiving and selfish. He was also very disrespectful to his father in the end. Well then, let’s grade this father as a teacher. Well, let’s see. A man had two sons and both of them failed miserably! I guess we must conclude that the father was a complete failure.
But wait, everything you know about this parable tells you that the Father Jesus is talking about, is really God! And God is not a miserable failure! He is perfect. He is holy! He is all powerful. So, let’s look at this parable again.
We skip ahead to verse 17 and read these words, “He came to himself!” He recalled his father’s teachings. He knew that His father was a kind man, a forgiving man, a just man, a gracious man. Why, even the hired servants had bread enough and to spare. The father allowed some of these servants to sleep in his house, under his roof because he treated them like family. He knew the way home and the way home was not only the road which led between the distant city and his village, but it was the way of repentance. I will go back home and I will say to my father, “Father, I have sinned against (what?) heaven and against you.” It is not that I was a little bad. It was not that I made a small mistake. It isn’t even that I want another chance. It is “I am no longer fit to be called your son. I am no longer worthy to live under your roof. Just treat me the way you treat your hired hands who live away from you.” It is evident then, that the Father had trained his son very well in the most important things. His father, just like God knew that, “If we say we have no sin, we lie and deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yes, the father was a good teacher and the son passed the test with an A+!!!
But what about the elder son? If God is the Father, then didn’t He constantly teach about love and forgiveness? Are we not our brother’s keeper? Doesn’t this show that the Father failed to be the teacher He should have been? The answer would be yes, if we didn’t look beyond the greater context. The immediate context tells that this parable was spoken against the Pharisees. But we go beyond the parable to a man called St. Paul who was—in his own words, a Pharisee’s Pharisee, a Hebrew’s Hebrew, a man well advanced in Judaism beyond most of those his age. And this Pharisee who hated his younger brother and wished him dead, repented. He came back to his Father and he began preaching about God’s love more fully and more sweetly than anyone else! The Father had not failed. “Train up a child in the way that he shall go, and when he is older, he shall not depart from it.”
How important then is Christian education? How important is Sunday School and Catechism? How important is it for you and me as parents and grandparents and perhaps just as neighbors of unchurched children, to do all we can to promote Christian education?
As most of you know, I was raised in a different denomination. When I preached my first sermon in my home church, and again, when I was ordained, I made a call on a little old lady, Mrs. Mary Warring, a neighbor of mine, but more importantly, my childhood Sunday school teacher, and I invited her to attend. She had shared with me the Word of God in such a way that it made and left its mark and I wanted her to know that.
One more illustration. In about 1978 Katy Lutheran church ordained a young man and that in and of itself was an event worthy to attend. But what was outstanding about this was that the young man’s parents did not attend the ceremonies. You see they weren’t Christians. Another unusual event was that a layman came forward and place the stole on his shoulders during the ceremony. And it was very emotional. This man cried and said, “I wish Mama could have been here today, but as you know, she passed away. She so loved you and so do I.” Now these two were his neighbors and Sunday school teachers who had picked him and his brother up and took them to Sunday school and shared their faith with them. And now this was harvest Sunday. A man had two sons, and he didn’t train them right as far as the Lord was concerned. But someone else took over. Question: How many young sons or daughters who are not being trained in the Lord are here in Sevier County that God would use as Pastors and Teachers and DCE’s and Deaconesses or parish administrators, if you would only fill that gap? Amen
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