Text: Luke 15:1-2; 11-32
Speaker: Joel Miller
This is a parable about a prodigal son. This son requests an early inheritance, goes away and spends it, all of it. He returns home in desperation.
This is a parable about his older brother who stayed home to run the family business. Uncelebrated. And he is unwilling to celebrate the return of his desperate, disgraced brother.
This is a parable about a father. It’s about a father, and his two sons.
This is a parable about a mother and her two very different children. How in the world did these children come from the same mother? So small and precious and then, well, they grow up, don’t they?
This is a parable composed of different generations.
It’s a parable about what we inherit – and not just the property, but the love, the unspoken expectations, the patterns, the scars, that get handed down through the generations. It’s about how we receive all those things. And whether there will be anything of value that passes through us to the next generation.
In this parable, the very different brothers may or may not find a way to live together in peace. The mother will try her best, but those children do have a mind of their own.
The father is wealthy, that much is clear. Property, servants, fields – large prosperous fields, a robe, a ring, plenty in reserve to throw a feast at a moment’s notice and invite the whole neighborhood.
Let us suppose he was not one of those mythical self-made men who started with nothing and made it big. Let us suppose that he himself was the recipient of a great inheritance, and that his parents received the wealth of their parents after they were dead and gone, generations on back.
There were other peoples who once lived on the same lands many generations prior. They either moved on, or blended with the new wave of migrants, or lost the great battle, to the warriors who claimed their wealth as the spoils of war. Or some combination thereof.
That was generations ago, barely a memory now.
This is a parable about eating. The chapter in Luke which contains this parable begins: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus then tells three parables about losing and finding and rejoicing. Sheep, Coins, People. This parable, the third, is by far the longest. Losing, finding, rejoicing, and eating. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The politics of eating.
There’s this father with two sons. The younger said to the father: “Father, give me now, the share of the property that would be mine if you were dead.” And so the father divided his property between the two sons. OK, son. As you wish. This is yours.
The younger son takes it, wastes it, and ends up hungry in a field of pigs. The pigs had something to eat and fellow pigs to eat with. But not him. “I wish I were a pig,” he thought. That was rock bottom. Good Jewish boys don’t go near pigs. Not even bad Jewish boys. They certainly don’t envy pigs.
But the son remembered he wasn’t a pig. Remembered where he came from. Remembered his father and all those prosperous fields he had left behind.
He devised a plan. He composed a speech.
He rallied what little energy he had left, and headed for home.
While this son was still far off, barely visible on the horizon, his father saw him. The father took off, sprinting toward him, embraced him. The son had a speech to give, carefully constructed to get him what he wants. But he gets interrupted by the father who starts calling for a robe and a ring and sandals – all for his son.
And a feast. This is a parable about eating. “Let’s eat and celebrate,” says the father, still panting. “My son was lost, but I found him.” And they began to feast.
That could be the end of the parable. It has a beginning, a middle and climactic end. A pretty good story.
But this is a parable about a father and his two sons, and the older son, won’t join the feast. He’s out in the field, and won’t come in. He can’t fathom how this son of yours, father, can be celebrated after all he’s wasted and all he’s done with whoever he’s done it with.
The father has more work to do. “We have to celebrate your brother. I going to go eat with him. Come to the feast son. Come to the feast. Please.”
This is a parable about eating, starving, and coming home to a feast. Everyone’s invited to the feast, but will everyone come?
This is a parable of how God is like a six year old girl:
Like Ila when she’s expecting a friend to come over. She sits on top of the back of the couch, looking out the window, watching the cars. So attentive, till, finally, that’s the one. She jumps off the couch and does a couple laps around the kitchen, dining, living room loop. “She’s here. She’s here.” She runs toward the friend with a big hug. They jump up and down for a long time, while hugging, and laughing, before they go off to play.
A parable need not have a single point or moral. It can be like a beautiful stone that one turns over and over in one’s hand, each surface has its own way of reflecting the light.
You can assign parts to yourself and to God. You can imagine it taking place in a very distant land long ago. You can see it happening today if look for it.
Suppose the father is mother earth, our mother. Our planet. Mother of all the living.
The younger son is the entire human species.
This could be called the parable of the prodigal species.
And the older, who is nearly certain her younger sibling is incapable of change, unfit to be received back into the fold… The older sibling is a honey bee. Yes, that’s right. A honey bee.
The mother, earth that is, was wealthy beyond compare. Generations upon generations had formed her wealth.
Back before there was even was a sky, the raw materials of her wealth fell out of the sky, drawn by gravity to the growing solid molten mass of the very young earth. Soon there was land, sea, and sky.
She had children. First small life forms, then larger and more complex. The mother delighted in these children.
It took a long time, but the mother became very wealthy. One generation after another, the wealth accumulated and was handed down.
Veins of gold and silver. Bands of iron. Seams of coal. Fields and fields of oil. And of tall grasses alive with birds and insects. Forests filled with trees of every kind. Nuts, berries, vines. Animals with scales and fur. Streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, oceans, teaming with fish.
She was rich.
The mother gave birth to a child whom she loved dearly. “Beloved,” she called him. “Made in my image.” “Homo sapien” he called himself. A proud and clever son.
The child grew up playing in the forest, running in the open savannah, exploring the wide world. He made great discoveries. He was a clever child.
One day, when he was no longer a child, but not yet a man, he said to his mother: “Mother, give me my share of the inheritance.” “My son,” said the mother, “everything you see is for you, but it is not only for you. You are part of a great family. My wealth is also given to sister bird and brother frog and sister turtle. It is undivided, available to all.”
The son laughed, “Can the bird conjure fire to manage the forest? Can the frog mine for gold and create beautiful objects? Can the turtle drill for oil to power industry?” I will use this great wealth to create more wealth.”
OK son, as you wish.
And that’s what he set out to do. What an amazing inheritance.
He cut down the trees and built great cities. He mined for gold, created beautiful objects, and went to war to claim more. He drilled for oil and powered his engines. He multiplied, and covered the face of the earth.
But the son squandered his inheritance. Just like that. Millions of years in the making, gone so quickly. What’s left to pass on? The birds no longer had enough trees for nesting. The frog and the turtle were left with polluted streams. The air was dirty, heavy, and hot. Their brother had claimed it all as his own and used it up. They were the prodigal species. There wasn’t much left for anyone else.
Many of the homo sapiens were going hungry. I wish I were a worm, they thought, then I could burrow down in the ground where its dark and cool, away from all this trouble we’ve caused.
Then, they remembered. They remembered their mother. Remembered her joy, her love, her delight. They vowed to change their ways, at least a little.
The mother had been watching all this. There was still joy, and love, and delight within her. She wanted to run and embrace her child. She wanted to offer everything she had for comfort, but she had so much less to give than before.
What should she do?
The mother had an older child, daughter honey bee, out working in the fields. The honey bee was an important helper to its mother, living a life of faithful service.
“Your younger brother would like to come home,” said the mother to the honey bee. “He says he will change. I would like to welcome him.”
But the older daughter refused. “Look what he has done to you, mother. To us. He has brought you disgrace, squandered your wealth, and brought harm to all our sisters and brothers. I will help you again fill the earth with life. We would be better without him.”
The mother and daughter talked for many hours. They considered many possibilities. Finally, they came to a resolution.
The son had come to field, and the mother turned to him, facing this beloved child.
She told him about a feast. This is a parable about eating.
The son was invited to a great feast, a great family banquet, the mother said. There would be much rejoicing because the one who was lost had been found.
But there could be no feast if the son didn’t help prepare it. How could there be? If he didn’t help clean house, slowly and patiently tend the garden that would produce the feast.
It might take generations to produce the kind of banquet the mother had in mind, it was to be a grand feast. The son was invited to begin preparations that very day. He would not be able to do this alone. He would need the help of his older sister. He would need a lot of help. It was his choice.
“As you wish,” the mother said.