“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.'”
One of the long-standing standing rules of parable interpretation is that we find the point of comparison and let that be what the parable is all about. Now historically it has been named, The Parable of the Prodigal Son- but is that what it is all about? Not hardly. A famous German theologian said it ought to be named, The Parable of the Awaiting Father.
However to name it with any name is to exclude other points that ought to be explored. If, as we say in the LCMS, every word of the Bible is inspired and is profitable for teaching, then all of a parable ought to be examined! So tonight I would like to examine a little more closely the lament of the elder brother.
When Jesus gave this parable he only mentioned that the younger son wasted his money on “wild living.” The Greek basically says he scattered his living wastefully. That could mean almost anything. It could mean simply he made some investments without really understanding what he was doing. It could mean that he tried to live like a millionaire as if this new style of life would go on forever.
But what was the elder son’s version: “this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes…” The text does not say anything about prostitutes. That is how the elder brother put his spin on it- perhaps indicating that if he had half a chance, that is what he would have done.
Think about it for a moment. We learn in our catechism that we are always supposed to “put the best construction on everything.” The elder brother put the worst construction on what his brother had done. Are we any better? If we do not like someone, do we always explain what he may have been doing or thinking or what his motive was – as the new version says, “in the kindest way”?
So what will satisfy this upset son? His answer, “Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” #1. Instead of the delicious fatted calf, he will settle for a goat, albeit a young goat. #2. He doesn’t want to celebrate with his father and with his brother but with his like-minded buddies, the elder sons of the town.
I think about a full-blown worship service where, as the Bible teaches, things are done, decently and in order. Where sermons are clearly based on the Bible and contain both Law and Gospel. Where the Law is preached so as to remind each and every one of us that we have sinned by thought, word, and deed and we feel sorry about that. And the Gospel is so shared that we are comforted and feel the love of God in our hearts.
Within that service, there is a place to confess those sins and feel that absolution, where praises can be sung to God and hymns are not based on making us feel good about ourselves but feel good about God! And yes, where the Lord’s Supper is offered so as to strengthen our souls for this life in which we so often experience aches and pains, sorrow, death, and disappointments.
But what do so many people want? Roast Rump of Goat! So much less! “O I can read my bible at home.” “ I get more out of quiet time on a boat at the lake than I do in church.” “I work hard all week long and I need my rest and the only chance I have is Sunday mornings.” (What happened to the traditional Sunday afternoon nap???) And a hundred other morsels of that roast rump of a stupid goat!
But what does God offer? We read “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. A full-blown party with all the trimmings! The servants of the Lord and the hired hands and most of all the brother — the long lost brother!
It was in November of 1945 and my brother has been away in the Pacific in the war. We had been having regular mail from him but now for whatever reason, no mail. For some reason, I was kneeling on the couch which faced the road and I was looking out and a taxi pulled up. A young very thin solder got out of the cab, carrying a duffle bag. I shouted out “Will is home!” Nobody believed me. “Don’t talk like that!” my mother said. But it was true and how happy, excited- overjoyed we were to see him, this our long-lost brother!
To a lesser degree that is how I feel back in Tennessee when I see my brothers and sisters come to church on a Sunday Morning, especially those who have been missing for a while. And that is the way I am beginning to feel here as I am getting to know you. And I am sure many of you feel the same way about your congregational members.
A long time ago a member of the church I served had been the boss of that church, having ruled about everything, always getting his own way and my predecessor accepted that. But I did not and this man tried everything to get rid of me, even stooping to hurt others and caused a rift in the church. He finally left when the District President told him he wasn’t going to get his way anymore and he stormed out very hatefully. Fast forward to about 35 years and he came back and I was there on a visit. He came up to me and greeted me warmly and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven carrying any grudges. So let’s be friends.” That was one of the most rewarding experiences in my ministry! And don’t you feel the same way about members who finally return??? Question: what are you doing to help that to happen? Amen!
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