â€œNow the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled saying, â€˜This man receives sinners and eats with them.â€™â€
What the Pharisees and Scribes didnâ€™t understand, and what many still fail to understand, is that Jesus came into this world to save sinners. â€œThose who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.â€ (Mark 2:17)
â€œSinnersâ€ are in a desperate situation that even they themselves donâ€™t realize. Theyâ€™ve fallen into a deep pit that canâ€™t get out of. And theyâ€™ll die in that pit unless someone pulls them out.
The big problem with â€˜sinnersâ€™ is EITHER that they believe that they have NOT FALLEN into a pit and that Jesus and His Christians have the wrong idea about their life, OR they think they can get themselves out of the pit.
Sinners will either say, â€œThis is the way life should beâ€ OR â€œI got myself into this. Iâ€™ll get myself out of this.â€
â€œRepentanceâ€ is that change of heart and mind that only happens by the Holy Spirit, whereby the sinner begins to accept the fact that unless someone comes to pull him out of the pit, heâ€™s doomed, NOT ONLY to die in it but to spend eternity in it.
This change of heart, this â€˜repentance,â€™ is what Paul was talking about in our Epistle reading when he said, â€œThe old has passed away; behold the new has come.â€ (2Cor. 5:17) The â€˜sinnerâ€™ welcomes Jesus and calls Him, â€˜my savior.â€™
It wasnâ€™t that the Pharisees and Scribes werenâ€™t aware that they were â€˜sinners.â€™ Itâ€™s that they were thoroughly convinced they could get themselves out of the pit. In fact they probably thought of themselves as â€˜already there.â€™ â€œAnd if we can do it so can they.â€
Paul writes to Timothy saying, â€œChrist Jesus came into the world to save sinnersâ€¦â€ (1 Tim. 1:15). All sinners! Not just some sinners or a certain class of sinners. â€œALLâ€ sinners â€“ tax collectors and sinners as well as Pharisees and Scribes, and if them, then you and me too.
In His parable of the two lost sons, Jesus gives us a picture of the way the love of God for sinners is either received or rejected. Here we see the picture of â€˜repentanceâ€™ and â€˜hard-hearted refusalâ€™ of divine love. And as we hear His story, we must ask ourselves, â€˜which one am I?â€™
I. The Younger Son
The story begins with an introduction of the main characters. â€œThere is a man who had two sons.â€
The curtain opens on one of these two sons of the father. â€œAnd the younger of them said to his father, â€˜Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.â€™
He wants his freedom. Heâ€™s tired of living under his fatherâ€™s roof with all of his fatherâ€™s rules and regulations and curfews. We can almost hear him shouting over his, â€œIâ€™m never coming back to this place. I canâ€™t wait to be free of you and live on my own and do as I please.â€
Some of you may find yourself thinking, â€œOh yea, Iâ€™ve been there and done that.â€ And some of you may be saying, â€œWhat a jerk this kid was. I would never do anything like that.â€
The boy goes to some unnamed, â€œfar countryâ€ which could be anywhere as long as itâ€™s away from the â€˜old man.â€™
But he quickly discovers that a buck doesnâ€™t go as far as he thought it would. And he remembers that refrain his father constantly repeated while he was at home â€“ (câ€™mon, say it with me) â€œdonâ€™t you know that money doesnâ€™t grow on trees.â€
It doesnâ€™t take long at all before heâ€™s broke. Now heâ€™s got to find a JOB. Which he does, which a â€œcitizen of that country.â€ Which sounds innocent enough until Jesus embellishes the story with the gory little detail that this naughty little Jewish boy is slopping pigs.
Just try to picture the Pharisees and scribes as they listen to Jesus spin this tale. â€œPig farmer.â€ â€œOi vey.â€ Suddenly the tax collectors and sinners donâ€™t look so bad.
So, letâ€™s be sure to notice here that as Jesus paints a picture of â€œa sinner,â€ He doesnâ€™t create a â€œRESPECTABLE SINNER.â€ Heâ€™s not minimizing the offense of the younger son as if to say, â€œyou know, these sinners arenâ€™t really so bad once you get to know them.â€ No, Jesus paints a picture of a truly pathetic person that everyone back home despisesâ€¦ EXCEPT THE FATHER.
Eventually, the young man hits rock bottom. â€œHe was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.â€ He had longed to be out from under his fatherâ€™s thumb. And now finds himself under the thumb of a foreigner, who doesnâ€™t even give him his DAILY BREAD.
His pride is crumbling, but it goes deep and itâ€™s not easily broken. He has another plan for how he might save BOTH his life and his face.
â€œI will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, â€˜Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.â€™â€
He figures heâ€™d fill out an application for whatever work might be available around the fatherâ€™s house and in that place where it asked for â€œREFERENCES,â€ heâ€™d put his fatherâ€™s name. If the plan worked, heâ€™d at least have something to eat and a roof over his head. Heâ€™d save up his wages and before you can say, â€˜COMPOUND INTEREST,â€™ heâ€™d be able to strike out on his own again.
And with that, we come to the crucial moment in this story. Will the father receive his rebellious son? Or, will the Father slam the door in the Sonâ€™s face and disown Him? Would he refuse to â€œRECEIVE HIM AND EAT WITH HIM?â€
And the terrible answer is, â€œYES,â€ He would do JUST THAT. The Father punished His Son with the full measure of His righteous anger. He handed His Son over to the executioner and had Him flogged unmercifully until His body was a mangled mass of flesh and blood. And then He had His son nailed to a cross and left to die. And when, from the cross, the Son cried out, â€œMy God, My God, why have you forsaken me,â€ the Father turned His back on His Son.
And the Father saw all of this while His prodigal children were still a long way off. He saw this from all eternity. And because He sees this, His Son, His only Son, whom He loves, crucified for sinners, for His sake, He is â€œfilled with compassionâ€ for this sinner and for every sinner, and He runs to him and embraces the sinner in His â€˜FOOLISH LOVE.â€™
And before the son can offer his plan for what he will do to earn his way back into the fatherâ€™s good graces, the Father cuts him off, and dresses him in the best robe, puts the ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, so that all the whole community will know that this son of his has been fully accepted and completely restored to sonship.
And there is laughter and crying and hugging and kissing and the angels in heaven are singing and dancing. And all because â€œThis, MY SON was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.â€
â€œAnd they began to celebrate.â€ The whole village celebrated the Fatherâ€™s FOOLISH LOVE. For his son that was lost is now found. The Father has WHAT BELONGS TO HIM again.
II. The Older Son
But thereâ€™s another son of the father too. Heâ€™s the older one. And being the â€˜olderâ€™ one he should also be the â€˜wiserâ€™ one. As Jesus paints the picture of the older son, he also lives in a â€œfar country.â€ While all of this is going on, the older son, Jesus says, was â€œout in the field.â€
Even though the older son lives in the fatherâ€™s house and has never left it, he is so far removed from the father, he doesnâ€™t even know that his brother has come home. Coming in from the far away fields, he actually has to ask the SERVANT what the celebration is all about. And once he is told, he refuses to go inside and share in his fatherâ€™s joy.
The younger son staged his public protest by leaving the fatherâ€™s house. The older son stages his public protest by refusing to enter it.
So, ONCE AGAIN, everyone is embarrassed for the Father who has to bear this public humiliation of ANOTHER REBELLIOUS SON, who represents the Scribes and Pharisees.
AND ONCE AGAIN, JESUS BRINGS THE STORY TO A POINT OF CRISIS. How will the Father respond to his older son? Will he respond to the boyâ€™s insolence by commanding his servants to bind the boy and give him a good beating in front of his guests? Which is just what all the other fathers at the party expect him to do so their sons donâ€™t get any crazy ideas.
But no, once again, the father humiliates himself. He gets up from his seat at the head table, in front of everyone, â€œcame out and ENTREATED HIM.â€
Picture it. This respectable father, PUBLICALLY begging his son to come inside and join in the celebration and share in his joy. Oh, what â€œFOOLISH LOVEâ€ the Father has for His OLDER son.
And inside the house, the music has stopped, and everyone is watching out the windows.
Now since Jesus is the one telling this story, He can tell it however he chooses. How will the tension be resolved? He could have said, â€œAnd the older brother kissed his fatherâ€™s cheek, took his fatherâ€™s arm and entered the banquet hall, and for the sake of his father, he embraced his younger brother and said, â€˜Welcome home bro. Youâ€™ve made Pop so happy.â€ And then turning to everyone in the house says, â€˜This roundâ€™s on me.â€™
But Jesus doesnâ€™t tell it that way does He? The older son is so angry that he canâ€™t even bring himself to address his father as â€œAbba,â€ but disrespectfully says, â€œLook!â€ Refusing even to recognize his relationship with his own brother he refers to him as â€œyour son.â€
And then, just loud enough for every mother with a single daughter to hear, he uses the boyâ€™s name and the words, â€œwith prostitutesâ€ in the same sentence. HE NEITHER LOVES HIS FATHER NOR HIS BROTHER.
And why is the older son so angry with his father? BECAUSE ITâ€™S NOT FAIR. â€œLook, all these years Iâ€™ve served you.â€ All this time heâ€™s thought of himself as a servant and never as a son. To him, it was all tedious work with no reward. â€œAnd you never gave me even a young goat that I might celebrate with MY friends,â€ who are clearly NOT the kind of friends that â€œyou receive and eat with.â€
And the father is patient and pleads with his older son, WHOM HE LOVES JUST AS MUCH AS HE DOES HIS YOUNGER SON. â€œSON, 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.â€
AND AT THAT, THE STORY STOPS. IT DOESNâ€™T END. IT JUST STOPS. The curtain remains open. The father is standing there with arms wide open towards his older son. Guests are all leaning forward, frozen in place. Everyone is waiting to see how the older son will respond?
And the unspoken lesson to the Pharisees and scribes if they will only hear it is this, â€œDO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY I RECEIVE SINNERS AND EAT WITH THEM? BECAUSE IF I DONâ€™T, THEN I CANâ€™T RECEIVE AND EAT WITH YOU.â€
The older sonâ€™s response will come on Good Friday. It will be, â€œcrucify him, crucify him.â€ And only then, will Jesus bring this story to its end. â€œIt is finished.â€
â€œIt is finished for the tax collectors and sinners.â€ â€œIt is finished for the Pharisees and the Scribes.â€ And it is finished for you.
There banquet table is set. The celebration is about to begin. Repent and come home, and make the Fatherâ€™s joy complete. For He sent His Son into this world for SINNERS just like you.