March 31, 2019
Fourth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Prodigal Mission in Love
Rejoice in God’s Grace
Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Here, in the middle of our Lenten journey, the Gospel lesson invites us to celebrate our life in joy. I believe it is a right thing to do because even in Lent, we Christians are always an Easter people who are promised to be given the final victory over the power of death and sin. We have a God who forgives us, loves us, and lets us continue to grow through our own mistakes. That’s why we can always rejoice and be glad even in the middle of our Lenten Journey!
The Parable of the Prodigal Father
In today’s Gospel, we are invited to rejoice with the father of his younger son who was once lost and now found. We are already familiar with this parable usually titled “The Prodigal Son.” The younger son selfishly asked his father for his inheritance, declaring his father dead, and then traveled to a “distant country” to enjoy his life (v. 13). However, he soon squandered all his money drinking, gambling, and stumbling with prostitutes; then he suffered starvation and ended up feeding pigs and eating the garbage thrown to them (v. 15). In the end, he remembered that even his father’s hired labors had enough to eat. So he decided to return to his father and confess, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands” (v. 19).
Some preachers choose to spotlight the father, who showed extravagant generosity to his prodigal son; I would like to do that now. While he was still in the distance, the waiting father saw his son coming back, and he was filled with compassion; and then he run and put his arms around him and kissed him (v. 20). Without scolding his son, this loving father ordered the son dressed in a robe, ring and sandals, and then he set a big party for him. The father immediately restored him to his family dignity.
This parable is really a story of the “Prodigal Father,” lavish in love, who truly celebrated that his younger son was back home. It points to our Prodigal God whose grace and love is abundant to all of God’s children.
As we examine this story, we should also remember last week’s Gospel story in which we learned that we are thirsty but the world doesn’t give us the living water. We also learned that God is always calling us to his abundant grace, sending out another invitation, and then another, and then another, longing for us to respond to his calling.
In today’s parable, we see how soon the prodigal son came to be dried and almost died of hunger when he left his father (God) and went off to a distant country (world). But when he returned back to his father, he was very much welcomed and revived to life in his father’s house. Throughout this parable, Jesus teaches us again that God is the true source of our life and merciful and compassionate to those who repent and return back to God.
Of course, there was friction from the elder son who is another symbolic character in this parable. He had been faithfully working hard on his father’s properties. Hearing the unfamiliar sounds of partying, music and dancing, he asked a servant to find out what was going on. The servant said to him, “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fatted calf for the party” (v. 27). The older son was so angry outside the house, that his father went out and pleaded with him to welcome his younger brother, saying “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (v. 31-32). The parable does not tell us whether the elder son joined the party.
The Primary Ministry of Church
With those distinct characters in mind, let us talk about who we are to God and our neighbors. Which of the principles in the story should we, as a church, emulate for the sake of our relationship with God and the people around us?
We believe that the church is the body of Christ where God dwells to meet and bless his people. Then, the church must look like and act like the Prodigal Father in this parable. Like the Prodigal Father, we God’s children need to be prodigal in our relationship with others.
However, we lose the image of the Prodigal Father if we hold Christian doctrines as the only way to be saved and inherit God’s kingdom in heaven. With this kind of doctrinal faith, we may rather resemble the image of the elder son who grumbles at his father’s mercy on his younger brother.
We need to understand the historical setting in which this parable was told by Jesus. As you know, he was always surrounded by the crowds during his public ministry. The problem is, among Jesus’ followers were there tax collectors, prostitutes, and some others who were called sinners of their day, and the religious leaders, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, were disgusted with his community: “He welcomes these sinners and even eats with them” (v. 2). They didn’t understand why Jesus, who was praised as God’s Messiah, liked to hang around with those sinners who deserved God’s punishment.
The Jewish religious leaders were so-called the chosen people of God. They liked to gather in the Temple and synagogues to worship the Lord and study God’s words; they were very good at keeping the Jewish Law. But, in Jesus’ eyes, they were just like the elder son. Why? They only considered themselves as faithful sons to God but didn’t resemble his merciful heart at all.
Likewise, we Christians are faithful in our relationship with God through our worship and doctrines. But how do we like to respond to our neighbors living around us? If we have this elder son’s mind in our faith, how can we truly welcome the lost to our fellowship? How can we respect others whose culture or religion is different from ours? How can we live together in peace with others?
But if we have the heart of the Prodigal Father, we may see those people as our brothers and sisters in God. Then we may feel concerned for their suffering and brokenness; we may be willing to reach out and serve them without asking or judging who they are and what they do, just as the Prodigal Father welcomed his younger son without judgement.
Ambassadors of Christ
This Prodigal Father parable reminds us that we were once lost and now found in God’s grace; we are not the people of law but the people of the Good News. We are forgiven and reconciled with God and even inherited to our Father’s house in heaven.
Because we are given God’s gift freely and abundantly, it is right that we must also offer the same level of mercy and compassion to all others. We should have the heart of the Prodigal Father in our worship and ministry. We should take mercy and compassion as the very Christian doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.