Sermon Synopsis Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The story of the prodigal has been preached soooo many times. It is such a compelling story about grace and renewal. It is easy to understand its appeal. The problem is that in order to understand why Jesus told it we have to refocus on the events which led to him tell the story.

Jesus is proclaiming a message that is resonating with the people. They are drawn to him and he welcomes them. The Scribes and Pharisees (the religious people of that day) self-righteously grumble about who Jesus associates with… Their idea of a religious life is disciplined and self sacrificing and their payoff is the ability to proudly disdain others which they feel do not live up to their pious standards. Jesus responds to these religious judgments with a series of stories of which the prodigal is only one.

You can imagine the Scribes and Pharisees hearing about this young man wasting his inheritance on prostitutes and wild living. It practically reinforces their judgment of those coming to Jesus now. When Jesus describes a famine in the land causing the prodigal’s plans to come crashing down, the religious leaders would point out that this was God’s wrath dispensing punishment.  

But then… the young man becomes enlightened. He sees for the first time what he has become and he realizes that there is a path towards redemption. His arrogance has cost him the right to be a son but he might become a servant in his father’s household. He begins his journey home.

Everyone hearing the story would have been stunned as Jesus spoke of the father’s love for his son. Running and embracing him as he attempts to beg for the role of a servant. The father not only sees the son he loves but also the son he wished him to become. All of the arrogance is gone. The celebration must begin. Everyone in the story rejoices… except one.

Now we come to the lesson of the story. Up until this point the religious leaders could compare the crowds coming to Jesus with the prodigal son. Now the crowds hear about an elder son whose attitude and behavior mimics those of the Scribes and Pharisees. His actions show disrespect and disdain towards the father’s acts of grace. His refusal to enter the household forcing the father to come out would have added a social shock to Jesus’ audience.

And the elder son’s reaction to his father...? He arrogantly continues his pious self-righteousness attitude. Even the proclamation of his father’s love and the promise of the estate does nothing to soften his heart.

The church today all too often lives out this passage. Scribes and Pharisees abound… We should be humbled by God’s acts of grace in our own lives. But instead we point to the lives of others all the while ignoring the hardness of our own hearts.

The point of the story of the prodigal son is the brokenness of the elder brother. That is what the Gospel writer lifts up for us.

Warmly,

Rev Da