Many years ago I was so angered by my mother that I told her I’d never come home, took all the money I had, filled the gas tank of my El Camino Supersport, turned left from our driveway on to GA HWY 135, headed south to GA HWY 82, hung a right, and stayed on it until I hit the Bama line in Georgetown. I crossed the Chattahoochee River into Bama and stayed there for part of the afternoon while determining whether to sell the car and hop a bus to wherever, or to go back home and deal with a woman who was constantly doing things that royally pissed me off. On that day I wanted to be dead to my mom. Even though she played a part in the matter, I know it did not feel good to my mom to experience what I’d said and done.
Years later one of my sons was so angry with me, because I’d guess that I’d visited upon him some of the stuff from my childhood that royally pissed me off. As he bathed I heard him through the thin wall that adjoined my computer station and his bathroom. He was lamenting to his brother the many things he disliked about life—and the biggest dislike on this particular day was me—-through the wall I heard his voice say, “Life would be so much easier and better if Dad was dead.” On that day my son wanted me to be dead to him. Even though my son played a part in the matter, do know that it did not make me feel good to experience the things said by my son.
These two anecdotes pretty much sum up the sentiment which the “Prodigal Father” experiences when his own second son makes an equivalent statement. It all went down like this:
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But 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.’” (NRSV)
The “Prodigal Father” displays extravagant, wasteful generosity from the beginning of the text to the end of the text. It had to come as a stunning shock to the father when his second son essentially declared him dead through wanting and requesting what would be his upon his father’s death. What pain it must’ve caused the father to hear what amounts to, “gimme the goods ’cause that’s what I love.”Even though the father might have played a part in the matter, I know it did not feel good to the father to experience what his younger son had said and done.
Such shameful conduct would have been the talk of the town. Don’t believe it ? Just you go sit in a barber shop or beauty salon in any small town. Sit there and listen for a while. It won’t be long before you will hear tales of the patrons. Eventually you will hear something very much like Luke 15:11-32.
Don’t we get fighting angry when we hear of a person who seems to have been wronged by their kids, especially when we hear tales of children fighting over what was left to them in a will, perhaps especially when those kids are 50+ years old? It is repulsive enough behavior when such folks are young ones, but when the squabbling is among those we’d like to think were old enough to know better, isn’t it disgusting enough to make a billy goat puke?
And isn’t it true that when those who behave this way are in our presence we react? Don’t we shun them? Don’t we unfriend them on Facebook? Don’t we tell tales of their nasty conduct to any who will hear? And aren’t we sucking our teeth in anger as we await our chance to give them a piece of our mind? Don’t we band together with the other town locals to give these disrespectful, shameful so-and-sos what for?
We see this cat coming down the road, looking like he has nothing to show, and after his rotten treatment of his dad, and doesn’t our anger boil?
Perhaps we love his dad who has been so generous to us all along, all our lives, and who lives among us still, truly loving us as he loves himself, and so we run. We make a run for the younger son, hoping to catch him before he gets close enough to hurt his father again.
But we are foiled. We see another moving ahead of us. We aren’t going to be the first to meet the second son. It’s the father. We know the son deserves to be run out of town on a rail, but we also know the generous nature and character of the prodigal father.
And we are stymied.
The father, the “prodigal father,” who has gotten ahead of us on the road, throws his coat around the arms of the one we’d roast on a spit. We’re stunned stupid. And if the “prodigal father” hasn’t stunned us enough with the coat throwing, he bowls us over by placing a ring on the second son’s finger, embraces him, then rings the servants for a resurrection feast.
Our anger swirls as we stand in awe, for the one who we believed to be wronged turns our own ire in on us, forces us to re-evaluate our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. And soon we are invited to a banquet that wouldn’t have occurred had we gotten to the second son first.
Isn’t it true that we’d never have let him get close to his father, would have waved him off, would have gotten in the way of an “eastering” moment? But–the “prodigal father” was not willing to let it happen.
So I wonder—should you make it about the sons rather than the father when you preach this text? If you make it about the sons, aren’t you confusing the subject and the object? And aren’t you accidentally (or intentionally) inhibiting a returning daughter or son on their return home? Don’t you realize that the father will reach them ahead of you? Perhaps the father already has.