Lent 4: Don’t Miss the Love for the Details

Two brothers — one careless and unfocused, the other dedicated and over-worked and both missing the point.

The one thinks that the father’s love is as fleeting as his dedication and discipline and the other seems to think that he can earn his father’s love by being the textbook dutiful son.  And we also find that this elder, hard-working son resents his brother, and more to the point resents his father’s generosity with him.

Both brothers misunderstand the nature not just of forgiveness, but of love.

The younger brother gets his inheritance, dad is more a money bags kind of person than someone God has put in his life to love and cherish, to learn from and to, when the time comes, take care of.   The father is just someone who produces what is needed, basically a glorified vending machine, or given the technological differences back then, maybe something like a fruit tree.

Then there’s the other one, scoffs at dad for making a foolish decision no doubt and giving his son his inheritance.  Then he keeps on working, doing his part, living each day to try to earn his father’s continual love.

Now, given that the one son is irresponsible and selfish, after he gets the cash things go about as expected.  The younger brother fritters away his money on fleeting things — eating beyond his means, drinking beyond his means, finding expensive ways to pass his time in the company of people whose bodies have a price on them.  A fake life of luxury, food he can’t afford, drink he can’t afford, and friends who like him only for his money.

Then he finds himself soon without.   The father’s generosity has been spent up, and the son has nothing to show for it except his own self, starving, thirsting, lonely — the three things he thought he’d conquered through gluttony, intemperance, and lust.  Now he is working for nearly nothing in return and eating the same food as the pigs.  That’s a nice existence, isn’t it?

So eventually the younger,  not-so-with-it son gets the idea that his father’s own servants live better than he does.  Maybe the old man will take pity on him and let him serve in the house where the son was once a family member.  At least the food would be better.  At least he’d be home and safe.  So, the son tries to play the father again, tries to get back in the house, tries to get back into the fathers’ good graces, though he doesn’t expect the same generosity as before.  He doesn’t even hope for love.  He hopes for pity.

When he returns to the family home, battered and broken, his sins on his sleeve and no shame in his heart, what he finds is more than what he had hoped for.  He finds a father who is just happy to see him back home.  He finds a father who doesn’t just let him in the house, but rushes from the house, down the front porch steps, down the drive way, and hugs his son who has been out and wandering.  The son goes to beg at his father’s door, but finds that the father rushes to meet him out in the driveway.  He gives his son a  hug and celebrates, he doesn’t just give him a job working with the servants in the house, but gives his son a fresh suit, and not just that, he puts a ring on his finger.  He doesn’t just feed the boy, he calls for a feast with nothing but the finest cuts of meat and the best wine and the happiest cheer!  The son expected nothing, hoped for pity, and received a hero’s welcome!  More than just honor and celebration, he received love!  He received more than mercy, he received healing.  He wasn’t just let back on the property, he was welcomed home.  And he was shown that even though he went on a little walkabout and nearly killed his fool self, he had never really left the family.  He only thought he had.

Now, the other brother saw all of this.  He saw the younger one get his money and run, he probably knew just as well as anyone that the money was spent the minute it hit the boy’s hands.  He probably knew the kind of guy his brother was, having lived with him his whole life and seeing the side of his sibling that perhaps the parents miss.  He also knew that while the younger son had been off  trying to live life by throwing it away, the elder brother was working, a dutiful son, working for his father, working for his family, putting more than his share of the labor, probably even more than that after the younger brother took off.

And so, while  little brother has been out shaming himself and the family, the elder brother is out working.  He comes in from working that day the younger brother returns, misses the whole scene in the driveway, and comes home to music and celebration.  Notice, here, that it says that he isn’t sure what is going on and has to call one of the servants to tell him.  I wonder if he thought perhaps the party was for himself, finally the kind of reward that he’d been waiting for, finally someone recognizing his efforts, finally, he was getting his share of the glory.  Then he hears that it is because his younger brother came home, penniless and broken by the world.  And the elder brother is angry, so angry he’d rather stew on the front porch than go inside and have some super.

The father comes out and begs him, begs him now the story says, to come inside and celebrate with them.  The elder son’s response is something like, “Look, I do all the work around here, I do  what you say, I learned what you taught me, and you never, never threw me a party like this, not even a smaller party!  And this fool takes his money before his time, goes  out and waists it all on trash food and liquor and hookers and you expect me to come inside and celebrate him being back home? You respond to his backsliding by throwing him a party?  No.  I’m not having any of that.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but in my family if we were to sass an elder like that, much less at their own home, it might not go over so well.  You could probably see the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air over the porch there’d be such an explosion.

What does the father do?  Does he yell at the son?  Does he put his foot down?  Does he kick the defiant son out?  No.  he reacts the same way to the tired and angry elder son as he does to the tiered and shamed younger one.  Compassion.

“Son,” the father says, “you are always with me.” Y’all know what that means, it means the father notices what the elder brother does, his work is seen and appreciated.  The father says something even more interesting after this, “all that is mine is yours”  back then property was a big thing, what you owned was what made you powerful and gave you position and got you respect, this man shared all he had with his family because he loved them.  The father goes on, “but we had to celebrate that your brother came back home.  He was living no life, he was killing himself, he was losing himself in the traps and temptations of the world.  He was getting buried and broken by his own misdeeds and poor judgment and his own weakness.  Your brother was dead,  but he’s come back to life.  your brother was lost our there in all that mess but he has been found again.”

Y’all get it?  The younger brother was lost in the world, alienated from himself and felt so distant from his father.  And the elder brother, the elder brother felt the same way even though he never left the farm.  Both brothers had put up barriers and walls between themselves and their father, and one another.  Both were assuming that their father didn’t love them as much as he really did, both of them were lost in their own mind games and misunderstandings and assumptions, just in very different ways.  And the father, the father never left either one of them.  The younger son went out and wasted his money on expensive food and a good time, and when he got home what’d he get?  A new suit, some expensive food, and a good time!  The elder brother worked and worked and worked all the time, and he felt like his father didn’t see, that he didn’t notice or care, and that he didn’t have a share in the good things of the household.  But what did the father say to him?  What is mine is yours.  You could have had a party like this any time you wanted!  You could have called over your friends for the biggest blowout this town has ever seen!  But he didn’t.  He was all work and no play.  He missed the big picture for fussing with the details.

Now chances are if you didn’t relate to one brother here you related to the other one.  maybe there are seasons in your life even where you were the younger one, strung out and brought low, off on a binder of some kind or another, or wasting your time on things that don’t matter but make you feel good now, now, now rather the building you up and making you stronger.  Maybe you were at some point the elder brother who was always the one holding down the fort, doing extra credit, going above and beyond, caring when no one else cared, doing when no one else would do.  Maybe you were a fixer.  Maybe you are a fixer.  Either way, this parable calls on us to dial it back a little.  This parable tells us to re-frame the situation some.  This situation tells us that instead of focusing on ourselves and our own wants, or focusing on how someone else is messing up, instead of being greedy or jealous, why don’t we try being like the Father?  In case you missed it, the Father in this story symbolizes God, or Jesus, depending on the way you want to go with it.  And we are told to be like Christ in this world.   We are told to go out and do our bit, care for the things we need to care for, but do all things in love and charity, in compassion and joy, we are called not to get so lost in our own self-satisfaction that we miss out on caring for others.  We are called not to get so lost in the fussy stuff that we miss out on the big picture.  We are members of the household of God, and we always will be.   What do we say at baptism when we anoint with oil?  We seal that person by the power of the Spirit and mark them as Christ’s own FOREVER.  Forever.   Forever, no matter how strung out or brought low you get.  Forever, no matter how many illegal things you’ve done, or how much you’ve hurt yourself and your reputation.  Forever, no matter how much you’ve embarrassed your family or how many mistakes you’ve made.  Forever, no matter how many times you’ve been too controlling and overbearing in your work.  Forever, no matter how much time you’ve missed with family and loved ones because you wanted to work late.  Forever, no matter how many times you’ve stood in the middle of the riches of God’s blessings and missed it all because you were focused on something else!  Forever!  Forever are we in the family of God, forever are we one with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, forever are we held closely, even if we think we are far away.  Forever.  There is a wideness in God’s mercy, there is an unfathomable depth in God’s love, and no matter what we’ve done or how distracted we’ve allowed ourselves to become, God is always with us, and when we decide  to make that turn back in the right direction, Jesus will be there, either running down the driveway or coming out on the porch to meet us.

If we can get it together enough to admit that we’ve missed the mark, that we’ve strayed, that we’ve sinned, we’ll be astonished to see that God didn’t leave us, we just got distracted, by one thing or another, and when we can focus again, we’ll see God there.  That is why we fast in lent, to help us focus on God.  And that is so important for us to remember as we get ready for Holy Week and Easter, as we follow Jesus through his last days and the pain of the passion and the crucifixion, as we follow the women who weep for him and go to tend to him in the tomb.  God will abide forever.  And because we are brought into that household, we will too.  We just have to be careful not to miss it.


En el evangelio de San Lucas Jesucristo nos dice una parabola, la parabola del hijo prodigo.  Este es una historia muy popular y importante porque esta historia nos dice del infinitude del amor del Dios.  Tambien esta historia nos dice como debemos perdonar mas en nuestas vidas.

Hay muchas personas que nos han avergonzados con sus acciones, o que nos han echo enojados, o nos han frustrados.  Es natural que nos hace sentir molesto por este tipo de cosas.  Pero, necesitamos recordar que si no podemos perdonar, no podemos reparar nuestras relaciones.

Es dificil, si, entiendo, pero Jesucristo nos dice que un mundo que no tiene perdon para otros, no tendra paz en su espritu y en su vida.  Si queremos tener paz en estas formas, Tenemos que tener el perdon para otros y tambien debemos tener el perdón para nosotros mismos cuando hacemos cosas malas y cuando pecamos.

Hacemos todo esto sabiendo que Dios nos ha perdonado y continuará haciéndolo, y por eso demos gracias a Dios.   Amen.