Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The 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. 13 A 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But 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! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So 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. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But 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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for 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. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’ “
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
What do you think? Is it possible to overstate God’s love?
Is it possible to exaggerate God’s grace?
Is it possible to make too much of God’s forgiveness?
How can we ever “overdo” these primary aspects of God? If anything, we have a tendency to restrict them or narrow them or lessen them. We usually add some condition to God’s love with something like “when we come to God ” or “if we repent.” That misrepresents God, and makes God into something more resembling us than, well, God.
Which is why this parable is so beautiful. It is about as strong a statement of God’s grace as anything in scripture. Even though we call it “The Prodigal Son,” it’s actually a parable about the hugeness of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is a parable that tells us that God goes overboard, that God is extravagant, that God’s love is so unconditional that it doesn’t make any sense.
Take a look at it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good you are,no matter what you believe, the bottom line is the same in this parable: you are loved, you are included, you are wanted as part of God’s celebration of love—love for you.
The younger son asks for his inheritance—basically telling his father he has no use for his father alive. He’s wants to act as if his father was already dead. Are you one who doesn’t get along with your family?
He then pretends he has no family or community that cares about him to the extent that he goes off to a distant country. Are you one who pushes away anyone that might care about you?
He spends everything in dissolute living: completely, selfishly, and foolishly. Are you one who is foolish with money, who wastes it or makes really bad choices with it?
Then he finds himself living out the consequences of his really bad decisions. He’s starving. Are you one who doesn’t have enough?
Finally he realizes there is a source of food—but it’s back home. He has already abandoned his place in the family, so he thinks maybe he can get hired on as a worker on his father’s property. He practices his speech to convince his father to let him work on the farm. Maybe he’s sincere, maybe he isn’t. It doesn’t matter, because—
The father doesn’t give him a chance to make his speech. The father abandons all dignity and decorum and runs out to meet his son and embraces him. The father loves him and welcomes this son regardless of anything the son does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say. That’s how exceptional the father’s love is!
Then the father throws a huge party for this wayward son. Everything goes into it! The biggest and most wasteful use of funds there ever was! It’s a foolish thing to do. But that’s how outlandish the father’s love is!
Then the elder son catches wind of what’s going on. The good son, the obedient son, the loyal son. Is that you?
He is resentful that his brother gets everything! Are you one who feels slighted because others are getting more than you are?
He refuses to join the party, because it’s stupid, because it is wasteful, because he resents the injustice of it, because he feels as if all his work for all these years is simply taken for granted. Is this you?
But the father comes out to this son too, just like the father did for the younger son, and pleads with him to join the party. Because the father’s love includes this son too.
And the father tells him that everything he has belongs to this son, and that this son has a special place in the father’s heart. Please come with me. Please come to the party. Please celebrate with me. Please eat and drink and dance. Because I love you both. The father’s love doesn’t leave anyone or anything out. No matter what.
And it doesn’t make sense to us sometimes. And we think God has to have some limits, some conditions. Right? It would be foolish for God to love that way.
And that’s the point. God simply loves you. All out, over the top, foolishly loves you. God throws away dignity, wisdom, protocol, reason because God is head-over-heels in love with you.
Whether you have a close family or your family has disowned you. God loves you completely.
Whether you have a life filled with supporting people or are completely alone. God loves you absolutely.
Whether you are foolish, wasteful, and addicted, or whether you are prudent, wise, and resourceful. God loves you madly.
Whether you’ve cause your own difficulties or whether your difficulties aren’t your fault at all. God loves you passionately.
Whether you love God or whether you disregard God. God loves you fiercely.
Whether you were dragged here or whether you never miss a Sunday. God’s love for you never changes.
Whether you throw away every opportunity or whether you are waiting to be recognized for your hard work. God loves you more than you know.
And there’s a party. For all those God loves. For you. Because sometimes love just makes you celebrate.