Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the story that I just read –
the story of the prodigal son —
is the greatest story in the Bible or out of it.
There are themes here that all of us have experienced…
… a dutiful older brother and his rebellious younger sibling.
…. getting lost and then being found again.
…. going away and then of coming home.
As most of you know, I lead chapel time at Hoffman Homes for Youth once a week.
I usually let the youth choose songs they’d like to sing.
For the past year or so, every week – every single week –
they’ve asked to sing one particular song.
It’s Carrie Underwood’s song, “Temporary Home.”
I suppose it’s not hard to imagine why the youth living at Hoffman Homes
would choose this song.
They live on campus for an average of 9 months
as they work with their various therapists, psychiatrists and teachers.
They come from all over Pennsylvania and other states to live in this ‘temporary home’
until they’re well enough to move on.
For some of them it will be back to their birth home;
for others it will be to foster homes or other placements.
This song is a reminder that
where they are living now is not permanent.
They will be moving on.
And for most of them, they see that as a good thing.
They long for a “home” where they are safe, cared for, and nurtured.
Many of us have some ambivalence about our own homes,
but all of us can relate to the gift and desire to come home
to a place where we are safe, cared for, and nurtured and from which we have been missed.
This is a great story in part because it is a story of a great homecoming.
When Jesus tells this parable in the gospel of Luke,
he is butting heads with the religious leaders of the day – the scribes and the Pharisees.
Think of the scribes and Pharisees as the dutiful older brothers.
They study and obey Scripture.
They worship faithfully.
They pray constantly.
Just the kind of people you’d think that Jesus – the Son of God — would want to hang around with, right?
Instead, Jesus has this habit of hanging around with younger brother types of people –
‘tax collectors and sinners’ Luke says.
They don’t go to worship.
They don’t follow the laws of Scripture.
They are liars and cheats and prostitutes and the like.
The religious leaders of the day start to complain.
They grumble and say,
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
And so Jesus tells them a story – the one we just heard in fact.
He says, “There was a man who had two sons…”
and then comes the greatest story in the Bible or out of it…
My Bible says this story is called the story of “The Prodigal Son.”
But isn’t it more accurate to say, it’s the story of the two sons?
The relationship of the father to the younger son is important…
The old man is portrayed as being a fool.
Every day he scans the horizon looking for his son.
He tells his neighbors, “Maybe he’ll come back today.
I think he’s coming today!”
And they roll their eyes and think to themselves,
“You idiot! You gave him his entire inheritance…he’s never coming back!”
But then…one day it happens!
And we all love the part when the father sees his boy from a distance
and then hikes up his robes and runs – runs — to bring him home!
Before the son even apologizes!
The father goes after the son,
to bring him home.
…But Jesus says it’s the story of a man who has two sons…
and the relationship of the father to the older son is just as important.
It may be even more important because after all
Jesus is telling this story to the scribes and Pharisees –
those ‘older brother’ types.
The father goes out to bring the older son home too.
The older son is outside pouting.
He’s heard news of a party –
and it just isn’t right!
His father is throwing a party for this younger son who went off
and squandered his inheritance,
while dutiful older son stayed home working in the fields day in and day off.
Where’s his party?
But did you catch what happens…?
Remember the father persistently scanning the horizons watching for the younger boy to come home?
The father does the same for the older son.
He’s been watching the door for the older son to come inside.
Waiting to welcome him to the party.
Waiting to share in the excitement.
And when at last the son arrives home…
the father leaves the party and goes outside to him.
He pleads with him.
He begs him to come home too.
The father wants to do for the older son
what he has done for the younger son.
There was a man who had two sons…
And the father’s greatest desire is to bring them both home.
Sometimes we see ourselves like the older brother,
and sometimes we see ourselves like the younger brother.
The message Jesus has is that the father’s greatest desire is to bring them both home.
Sons and daughters…bring them home.
Those who squander and those who hoard…bring them home.
Those who swear and drink too much, cheat, steal, and lie….bring them home.
Those who follow every rule and believe God owes them something because of their good behavior…bring them home.
This is the greatest story in the Bible or out of it…
because God’s greatest desire is to bring us home however we are lost.
For our reflection time, I invite us all to watch the images and listen to a song sung by Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, which could be a prayer for a prodigal: Bring him home. Bring them all home.