The gospel of today says, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So, he told them this parable.”
Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees and the scribes about the feasts that he was having with the sinners, and with those who have been rejected, ignored, regarded defiled, and the Gentiles, the poor, the minorities and marginalized. When Jesus and his disciples sat at the table before with Levi and other tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees and the scribes asked the same question to him and his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with them?” At that time, Jesus answered, saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-31)
However, they still have not understood what Jesus was saying. For them, the God whom Jesus proclaims is quite different from their God who loves only the righteous, and the never lost. And their Messiah whom they have been expected to come is not for the sinners, but for the righteous, not for the lost, but for the never lost. And the heavenly feast is not for the sinners or the lost, but only for the righteous and the never lost.
Here, they still remain in the same question, “Why are you so concerned about the sinners, the lost?” “Why are you eating with them?”
The God who revealed in Jesus, in his living, teaching, healing and his suffering and his death is a God who is a seeking and loving God, like a shepherd searching the woods, and the valley, and the whole fields for the one lost sheep, and like a woman searching every corner and streets for the one lost coin. And the God whom Jesus proclaims in today’s parable, is a God who, going up to the hill and standing to see every day that his lost son is returning. And finally, seeing him coming, while his prodigal son is still far off, but being filled with love and compassions, runs and put his arms around him and kisses him. Getting excited at his returning, the God, the father of the lost, is not saying anything to rebuke or to find fault with him, but calling to his servants, “Hurry! Bring my best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Go and get the fatted calf. And invite all the people. Let us celebrate with a feast. This son of mine was dead, but now is alive. He was lost, but is found! Yes, we should celebrate and rejoice together.”
The father in the parable, and the God whom Jesus proclaims is quite different from a father and a God whom they have thought and expected to be.
Then, the elder son coming from the field, became angry at the party and at his father and refused to go in. “It’s not fair. How do you welcome that sinner and eat with him? Look at him. He betrayed you, insulted you. Don’t you remember what this prodigal one did to you before? This one, if you want to call him your son, yes, who was your son, devoured your property. He asked of you his portion as if you already were dead. He wasted your property in a dissolute life. He does not deserve that kind of party, that kind of honor. As he said, he should be regarded as one of slave. He ran away from you, but now coming back in trouble, in need. Of course, it is O.K. that you feel pity for him. But it is his fault, he is a sinner. He is not the lost one, he ran away from you, betrayed you. Just give him some food, clothing, and shelter appropriate to him. But, he should know where he stands now, and what he did, and what he lost. That will be enough for him. But, set a party for him, eat with him, invite people for him? It’s not just, it’s not right. He should not be honored. Where is your justice?” “Look at me! I am your beloved, I am your faithful son, I am your heir whom you would put your arms around and kissed. I am the one whom you would show gratitude. You are not supposed to sit with a sinner, but with me. He is not my brother, he is not your son anymore.”
Yes, the elder son in this parable, and also the Pharisees and the scribes were never lost. They have always remained faithful and obedient to God, and never gone away from the house of God, even working for Him as slaves, never disobeying His command. They deserve having party. Yes, they expected God would show some gratitude for them, their faithfulness, their righteousness, their devotion. However, the God whom Jesus is proclaiming, is quite different.
His father holds him, pleading with him, in love. “Listen to me, my beloved. 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. He is not a ‘other’, he is not just a sinner, he is not a someone. This is your brother. And this is my son, my beloved one just like you. I am not asking him why he left my house, what he spent his portion for, how he wasted his times and my property, and what he has returned for. I am not rebuking about what he did, I am not resenting about what he did to me. I lost him, and now I have found. Come on in and join the fun. It’s your brother, it’s your party. We have to celebrate and rejoice together.” Yes, this is the God whom Jesus proclaims, and this is the God who sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to us. This is the God who is now walking the way of the suffering and death through Jesus for his lost sheep, for his lost coins, for his lost sons and daughters.
And this is the God who calls us to the way, the mission of Jesus, seeking and loving the lost, and this is the God who calls us to celebrate and rejoice that the lost are found. We are called to the feast of joy, the feast of love, the feast of God. And, the right response that Jesus asked of the Pharisees and the scribes is to join in the banquet of the joy, not criticizing and judging the lost the sinner, but loving and helping them to find God or be found by God, and welcoming and receiving them into the family.
This story does not tell us what the elder son would do, and how he would respond; instead, it stopped abruptly with a ‘open-ended’, so that not only the Pharisees and the scribes but also us, the reader of Luke’s gospel, may reflect on what the proper response should be.
“Then, how will you respond to my welcoming the sinners and eating with them? How will you respond to my coming to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance?” Jesus asks. “And how will you respond to my invitation to celebrate and rejoice?” But, . . . they missed the party of joy.
And now Jesus asks us, Christians who were lost, and found, or never lost and would never be lost. Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance. This is his mission among the people. But it does not mean, the righteous are left behind and stay outside the feast. Jesus calls the righteous to participate in his mission, seeking out sinners and helping the lost to come to God. And also, to welcome and celebrate them being found and coming back to God and rejoice together. They are to share in Jesus’ mission and his joy.
We are not supposed to be spectators or audience saying, “this is not our business, just let them do what they want. They are sinners and just prodigals. But we are not lost, righteous.” Then, we, like the Pharisees and the scribes, too will miss the party of joy.
“Do not miss the party of joy! We have to celebrate and rejoice. “This son of mine, this daughter of mine, yes, this brother of yours, this sister of yours were dead and have come to life. They were lost and have been found. Let us have a party. Do not miss the party of joy. Weep with the father who weeping with his lost son. Seek and love with the father who seeking and loving the lost. Rejoice with the father who celebrating and rejoicing at his repentant and found son. Do not miss the party of joy. Come on in and join the party of joy.”
This parable askes us, “Will you join me in the banquet or stay outside? Will you share my joy or keep complaining and grumbling? Will you join in the opportunity to help the lost find God or keep spectating? Are you willing to welcome and receive them into the family and share your portion with joy?”
You and I must choose how to respond to Jesus’ challenge to love and seek out sinners, and to welcome and receive them into the family, and to respond to his invitation to his feast of love.
“Then, how will you respond in this Lent?” Amen.