Sermon for 4th Sunday In Lent Yr C, 21/03/2004
Based on Lk 15:1-3, 11b-32
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Shalom everyone. Some of you may remember me as the “elder son” in Luke’s Gospel, chapter fifteen, and my name is Asher. For centuries people have read this story with a particular bias and have given me “bad press.” Too many people pay way too much attention to my brother, the “younger son,” his name is Reuben. So today I’d like to give you my side of the story. I especially speak on behalf of all you folks who are elder brothers or elder sisters—if not by age, then by personality. You know, we’re the kind of folks who tend to be what you label these days as “Type A” people. We are the overly responsible; sometimes we have the tendency to want to take too much control. We are the hard workers of the world; we’re what you call “the gold watch people.” We are good, solid citizens who do our duty and remain loyal and obedient. Instead of being the life of the party, we are the ones who do all the planning and make all of the arrangements so that there can be a party. We’re the ones who fret about details like running out of food and drink. Then, once the party is over and everyone has left, we are the ones who stay behind to clean up and put everything away again. So, now that I’ve told you a little about me, and about a lot of you too, here’s my side of the story.
First of all, you will recall that my younger brother, Reuben, insulted my father and shocked the daylights out of both him and me by asking for his inheritance. If you could have been there to see the pain and agony in my father’s eyes and on his face, you too would have cried, if not openly, then at least inside—for that is what my father did. In fact, he cried a lot of the time after Reuben left. How Reuben could have been such an insensitive clod as to ask for his inheritance before our dad died is beyond my comprehension. It was as if he was saying to dad: “Drop dead!” Anyways, I did empathise with dad and worked even harder on our farm, taking over most of dad’s work because he was no longer motivated and he fell into a deep depression after Reuben left home with his inheritance.
However, there is one little, but very important detail that Luke mentions; yet most people fail to “get it.” After Reuben asked for his inheritance, Luke has this to say about what my dad did next in verse 12: “So he divided his property between them.” Now this little detail of the story is a very important one from my point of view. Why? Because it has a lot to do with what happens when Reuben returns back home from his loose living.
Let me explain. People both lay and clergy for centuries have focussed on how generous the father was when Reuben returned home. As the elder son, I really question that “take” on the story! You see, Luke brings out all the worst in me by insinuating that I was angry, jealous, bitter, and self-absorbed when my dad welcomed Reuben back and had a party for him. I’m pictured as the bad guy wearing the black yarmulke. Yet, I ask you, how would you feel if someone threw a party “at your expense,” without even so much as getting “your permission or opinion” on the matter? After all, it was, as Luke says, MY INHERITANCE that footed the bill for Reuben’s homecoming party! What’s going on here anyways? First, dad says I get two-thirds of his property, then he turns around and throws this lavish party without even asking my opinion and leaves me to pick up the tab! So, yes, I was rather angry with my brother for being rewarded for his irresponsible and careless living! And yes, I was ticked off with my dad too for being so extravagant with MY INHERITANCE and playing favourites like that! Now can you see my side of the story and appreciate how I was wronged and taken advantage of by my own dad and brother?
Yet, there is more to the story than that. Luke leaves the story open-ended. After describing me as the villain of the story, he raises the question: “Will I, Asher, the elder brother listen to my father’s words and come join in the joyful celebration of my brother Reuben’s homecoming or will I refuse and walk away?” Well, let me tell you, I did refuse to go in and join them at that party. However, Luke didn’t live long enough to see what happened to me next. You see, some time after that, I figure it was a year or two later, I was given the opportunity and privilege of meeting Rabbi Jesus myself. What a meeting it was too! There was something remarkable about his presence—it made me realise that he could see right through me. He knew me completely. He conversed with me, and helped me to see how I too had been dead and lost. You see, I was living my life by measuring, calculating, and comparing everything and everyone. That way of living only leads a person to judge and condemn others. It sets up life as an exacting system of rewards and punishments for everything we do or fail to do. It leaves no room for love, forgiveness, and mercy. How wrong I was! Now I see that “MY MONEY, MY INHERITANCE” was mine not because I had worked hard to earn or deserve it and was rewarded accordingly. NO! It was a sheer gift of love from my father BECAUSE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH ME; BECAUSE I WAS HIS SON AND HE WAS MY FATHER.
So, my friends, my brothers and sisters, I came to see that the story Luke told about me, my brother and my father is really a story about God our Loving Father and all of us. God our All Loving Father wants us to be members of his family and live in an unconditional, loving relationship with him. His welcoming arms are always open to everyone—including us elder brother and elder sister types. Everyone is in need of being found by him. Because we are all his children, he will not give up on us until he finds us; welcomes us home and freely offers us his inheritance. And Rabbi Jesus is the one who makes it all possible for us—he is the Way to the Father for us; his death on the cross showed us once and for all what the Father was willing to do to win us back to him. In suffering and dying on that cross, Jesus shows us how much the Father loves us.
Now I, Asher, am able to rejoice, even during this season of Lent, over everyone who is lost and then found, dead, but has come back to life thanks to the all-inclusive, unconditional love and grace of Rabbi Jesus and our Heavenly Father. How about you? Why not join me in rejoicing—whether you are a younger or elder brother or sister, whoever you are, the Father welcomes you too, each and every one of you. That’s my story, I thank you for listening, and now I bid each of you God’s Shalom!