4th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 611, 609:1, 3-6, 570
Text – Luke 15:1-3
Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees & the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners & eats with them.” So He told them this parable:
EATING WITH SINNERS
He had the haunted look of an ex-con. What he was an ex-Marine. A city kid who’d grown up hunting each fall with his relatives in South Dakota, he was a good shot. The Marines had put him to work as a sniper in Vietnam. He could kill from nearly 300 yards away, but he told us, he found that he didn’t like killing. He wanted out.
He spoke about the Marines with a mixture of affection, pride & bitterness. “They was the best family I ever had,” he said. “A good family, but,” he added, “when I got out, what could I put on a job application for my past experience? Sniper? That don’t look too good.
He had found work as a day laborer & long-haul trucker, & finally had settled into a steady job as a car mechanic. He said things were looking up. He was on his 1st vacation in a long time, & thought he might go home to see his folks.
“Me & dad,” he told us, “we never got along. He was in the Corps & proud of it. When I signed up, he told me, ‘You’ll never make it as a Marine.’ It’s been years since I seen him. Maybe it will be better now...”
It was getting late & we prepared to leave. The young man reached into his pocket & drew out a medal. David was clearly impressed since he recognized it as an Expert Marksman’s Medal, & said, “Wow. You must have been good. They don’t give these away.” But we both demurred when, in the tipsy fervor of the moment, he tried to give us the medal.
“No,” we said, “you earned this; it’s yours.” But we finally accepted it, resolving to give it back to him the next day, after he sobered up. As it happened, we didn’t see him that day, or ever again. When he returned to Minneapolis, he knocked on the door of his parents’ apartment, & called out. His father opened the door with a gun in his hand & shot his son in the heart at point-blank range. Some fathers do not always welcome their children home!
That is a jarring opening for a sermon, but it illustrates what Jesus encountered in His ministry: “…the Pharisees & the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners & eats with them.’ So He told them this parable.” Jesus proceeds to tell them the parable of the Lost Sheep, then the Lost Coin & finally the Lost Son.
All three parables address the same issue, the grumbling of the Scribes & Pharisees, because Jesus was welcoming home those who were sinners. In the parable of the Prodigal, or Lost, Son, the action begins with someone who’s basically grumbling. He’s not satisfied with his life so he tells his father, “Give me the share of property that is coming to me.” (Luke 15:12a)
Things reach a climax with the older son telling his father why he’s not satisfied: “Look, these many years I have served you, & I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30)
In this chapter of Luke there’s a whole lot of grumbling going on. Jesus tells a parable about two grumbling sons to address head on the grumbling of the Scribes & the Pharisees. If you notice, the younger son grumbled that he was not happy at home. The older son grumbles that the younger son is home, & his father is eating with him who is clearly a sinner.
It is easy, in this broken world, to become cynical, to know for certain that someone will never repent. The older son was seeing the kingdom of God in action & he could not recognize it. God eating with repentant sinners is a picture of heaven, because repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit restoring the kingdom to the Garden of Eden. The repentance of the prodigal son forces the climax in this parable. It draws the older brother’s lack of repentance out into the open & highlights his failure, his unbelief. It drives him over the edge & he humiliates his father in front of the guests. Still, the father welcomes this son as well:
“…Son, you are always with me, & all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate & be glad, for this your brother was dead, & is alive; he was lost, & is found.” (Luke 15:31-32 ESV) And that’s where Jesus allows the parable to end, on the Gospel note of welcome to the older son. The Pharisees & Scribes, you & me, are left to wonder, “How did the son respond?”
We are left to ponder, “How do we respond?” Are we like the younger son, a sinner who repents? Are we like the older son, a sinner who is still undecided? And if we do believe in Jesus as Savior from our sin, do we forgive others & welcome them home with no strings attached? In other words, what kind of parent are you? What kind of child are you?
Lutherans for Life operates a ministry called “Word of Hope” that helps men & women who’ve been involved in abortions to receive healing from Jesus. Their theme is Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted & binds up their wounds.” Many of the people who take part in violence against life feel like prodigal children.
Our Lord never ceases to see Himself as Father even to these. God breaks His heart open as much for them as for their victims. He keeps reaching out in reconciliation with the relief, healing & peace that they seek. We know the way to our generous Father in heaven because He has guided us on that way Himself.
We find that happening at the very beginning of Luke’s chapter 15: “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].” (15:1 ESV) That is not simply the “hear” of our language, as in, “Yeah, I hear you!” The Greek word includes the idea of obedience to what is heard. So we know these particular sinners had more going on than simple curiosity. In the verses right before the Gospel reading for today, as chapter 14 drew to a close, Jesus had been talking of the cost of discipleship. He then speaks the words that the sinners & tax collectors were responding to: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So Chapter 15 begins: “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].”
Those sinners had heard the Good News Jesus was preaching about the forgiveness of their sins. They believed it & were drawn to it. So they drew near to Jesus to receive it. God’s Son would gladly bless them by taking away their guilt & their shame. He would welcome them home to life in the kingdom of God.
The three parables about the LOST each revolve around the idea of welcoming, & being in fellowship with, sinners who have seen their need & turned to God for that need to be met. For us to offer the grace of God’s forgiveness to others is a costly undertaking. Though the forgiveness is free we may pay the price of humiliation & betrayal. Jesus certainly did.
The season is often held up as a time to “give up” something for Lent. In essence that tradition speaks to the idea of recognizing & paying the cost of discipleship. It’s meant to help us learn that following Jesus will make demands upon our time, our talents & our treasure. Throughout history there have been people who paid with their lives for following Jesus.
Have you had ears to hear? Have you been drawn to Jesus through His message of turning back to your heavenly Father, as the “Prodigal Son” returned to his? Now, you can show others that way.
Maybe you’ve been like the older son, always doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, thinking it’s ‘what you do’ which makes you valuable to your Father? Have you been jealous of those who are being ‘let off the hook’ in spite of their poor decisions, or lack of effort, as they are forgiven & welcomed home? Have you struggled to accept people who value things differently than you do, especially if some of their ‘things’ are destructive, or even outright evil? If you find yourself in any of those ‘places’ this teaching from Jesus is for you. This demonstration of your heavenly Father’s love is meant to encourage you toward repentance. Is your heart turned toward Jesus, or is turned away from Him?
While this world still exists, the heavenly Father’s heart is reaching out, even running towards you, & welcoming you! No matter what you’ve done, or failed to do, you can be restored to the status Yahweh created for you as His child – an heir of the kingdom of heaven. Don’t drag the struggles & bitterness of this life into the next. That is Satan’s plan for you.
It seems that St. Paul was applying the lessons of this parable when he wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. …Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a, 17 ESV)
Repentance is about returning to the ‘new you’ – the new creation which the Holy Spirit is building you into. And even though some earthly fathers, due to the brokenness of sin, do not always welcome their children home, the Father in heaven will never snuff out a smoldering wick. He always welcomes home every one of His wayward children who turn to Him.
God the Father sent God the Son to suffer the humiliation of our sin, through death on the cross, so that justice was served, God’s honor was upheld. It is fitting to celebrate & be glad since at one time we were dead & now are alive; we were lost, but now we are found. Amen.
Sheep that from the fold did stray no true shepherd e’er forsaketh; weary souls that lost their way Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh in His arms that they may live: Jesus sinners doth receive. Oh, how blest it is to know: were as scarlet my transgression, it shall be as white as snow by Thy blood & bitter passion; for these words I now believe: Jesus sinners doth receive. Amen. LSB 609:3, 5.
 Norris, Kathleen, Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), p. 322-323.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet