Luke 15:11- 32 Fathers Day June 20, 2021
Today is the National Holiday we call Father’s Day. It became a national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making it a federally recognized holiday. Father’s Day is quite a celebration Americans spend quite a bit on that holiday. The National Retail Federation predicts that American will spend over $20 Billion on Father’s Day 2021. That is record spending for the holiday. In comparison, the experts say that Americans spend over $28 Billion on Mother’s Day this year. Both holidays are significant ones that recognize the importance of mothers and fathers.
In Scripture, the word father, comes from the Aramaic word Abba. I recall standing in line at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel and hearing the tiny voice from a young boy calling out, “Abba, Abba!” He was addressing his father with the same name that Jesus addressed the Lord God. It was quite unusual in the early 1st century for a rabbi to address the Lord God as Abba, Father. The proper way to address the Lord God was Adonai, not Abba. Jesus introduces us to a relatively new way of addressing and understanding the Lord God.
Jesus reveals that the Lord God is best addressed as Abba in the parable found in Luke 15. He did not teach using technical language but used stories to let us know about the things of God. Telling stories around the campfire is an ancient tradition. In some cultures, storytellers were people who kept the ancient knowledge of their peoples. In a non-technical world where there are no books, Kindles or other devices to store stories and history, the storytellers were the ones who knew and taught such traditions. While Jesus was more than a storyteller, he did tell stories to help people understand the things of God. One of the stories was about a father who had two troublesome sons.
Decades ago a professor in Jerusalem did a remarkable study in which he would visit villages and read Jesus’ parables to people and get their reactions. From his many years working in Israel, he knew that village culture passed down stories from generation to generation. He operated under the assumption that until recent time village culture was stable and had not changed much in thousands of years. He talked with villagers in Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries. Through the villagers he got an interesting perspective on the parables of Jesus.
Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.” What if one of your children came to you with a demand like this? I suspect most people today would be outraged by such a demand. Village people had strong opinions of this demand. First, they said no son would ever do such a terrible thing. It was a completely outrageous demand that would put the son in a bad place with his father and with the entire community. The son in making such a demand is saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.” The villagers said that if a son did this the proper response of father was to beat some sense into him. But the father in the parable does not beat his son but divides his wealth among both sons. That is unheard of in the Middle East. They would think the father was a fool to do what he did.
The younger son quickly sold his share of the property, left his village and family and traveled to a distant country. Here we have a good Jewish boy taking his inheritance and relocating to a Gentile land. What did he do? Jesus says, “…there he squandered his estate with loose living.” He blew all his money. He lived a life of dissipation. The kid was certainly a poor money manager. His behavior is the total antithesis of proper Jewish or modern behavior.
Luke tells us, “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country and he began to be impoverished.” Famines were quite common in the old days. Here’s a son of a wealthy farmer who is now destitute in a foreign land without the support of family or his village community. He is desperate, and gets a job working for a Gentile farmer who sent him to feed his pigs. No Jewish boy would work for a Gentile farmer and certainly would not degrade himself by feeding hogs. He has reached the bottom. He was starving and his job did not pay him enough to survival. He even thought about eating pig food.
In his desperation he came to his senses. He knew if he remained in his present situation he would certainly die from hunger. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!” He decided to go back home and throw himself on the mercy of his father. He planned to tell his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” He is correct in saying he is not worthy to be called his father’s son. He did the unthinkable and made unforgivable insults to his father and to the village community. Even thinking about going back home shows how desperate he was. He heads home.
The odd thing is that his father has been looking for him. We get the picture of the old man sitting by the house looking down the road. While the boy was a long way off the father saw him and felt compassion for him. He ran down the road to meet him, embraced him and kissed him. This shows the father’s powerful love for him. If he had not run to his son and if the son just walked into the village the young men would meet him, mock him and perhaps beat him. His father’s acceptance of him prevented that beating. Another part of his unusual behavior is that he ran. No dignified Middle Eastern elderly man would run. They walk with pride in their position. To run is out of character for a village elder.
The son tried to give his repentance speech but his father called to the servants: “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” He completely restored his son. The father’s robe would assure acceptance by the community. His actions assured reconciliation with the servants. They would treat him as an honored son. The ring is likely a signet ring, which means that he is trusted in a remarkable way. The shoes are the sign of his being a free man in the house, not a servant. Killing the fattened calf rather than a goat or sheep means that the villagers would come to the celebration. The banquet’s purpose is to reconcile the boy with the entire community. The celebration commences with eating, drinking and music.
The scene now shifts to the elder son. He is the one who stayed at home and worked on the farm. Is he a good guy? If we were a part of village culture we would have realized early in the parable that he is not a good son but has issues with his father. When the young son demanded his inheritance, it was the role of the elder son to work to reconcile his brother with his father. In village culture it was expected that he would mediate the dispute but he does nothing. He does not mediate and lets the bad situation move forward. He now comes in from working in the fields and hears music and dancing. A servant tells him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” He became angry and refused to come into the house.
Here again he does not do the things expected of an elder son. He should have come in and made certain the guests were welcomed and taken care of. Instead, in his anger, he stays outside. His father does another act which is horrid in the minds of village people. He goes out and pleads with his eldest son to come in and celebrate that the younger son has returned. The eldest rudely speaks to his father: “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him.” By village standards, such rudeness should have been met with a sound beating by the father. But the father does not beat him.
The father simply states the facts: “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
This parable teaches us about God’s astounding love. At every point the father extends to his sons his love and acceptance even when by village rules he should have beaten them. Even by our cultural rules what he does is preposterous and shocking. While the father in the parable is not God, he is a symbol of the Lord God. God is excessive in his loving kindness and compassion. He gives us mercy when we deserve judgment. Regardless of our sin, he wants to forgive us and restore us as one of his children. He never writes us off. God is more willing to forgive us than we are to ask for forgiveness. He loves us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to die for our sins. On the Cross he bore the sins of the world, past, present and future. We find forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross. No matter what you have done or are doing, God is willing to forgive you and accept you as one of his children. All you have to do is pray, accept his forgiveness and live the new life you will have in Christ Jesus.