We have here two prodigal sons, the word “prodigal” from the Latin meaning “wasteful.” The younger son having wasted his share of his father’s resources and his family’s good name; the older brother being wasted by resentment because life is not fair. This is a made-up story which Jesus tells, not because it is historical, but because it is true. I suspect most everyone can relate to both of these two brothers, how we can get so twisted up in life wasting all kinds of time and stuff, and harboring resentments towards others. It is comforting, is it not, that Jesus obviously knows this? Is this story about the sons in any way Jesus’ own story? We don’t know. The story is certainly autobiographical when Jesus speaks of the magnanimous father who knows and loves both sons, without qualification.
The church has remembered this story down through the centuries because the story rings true. This is our story. We are these two children, sometimes more one than the other. And the father in the story represents the God whom Jesus calls “Father.
Every single one of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done. There is a child inside each of us whom God knows and adores, and that is by God’s grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve but which God desires. The French theologian, Charles Péguy, says that “Grace is insidious. When grace doesn’t come straight it comes bent, and when it doesn’t come bent it comes broken. When it doesn’t come from above it comes from below. Grace is insidious.”
The point of Jesus’ story is that we belong to God, no matter what. That truth is not a sign of God’s acquiescence to our bad behavior. Rather it is a cause for God’s celebration: our accepting the grace that we belong to God, no matter what. Those are God’s terms.
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