The Crowd You Draw Says Everything
#TheCrowdYouDrawSaysEverything is the podcast for March 31, 2019, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. When bitterness and jealousy cloud our vision about what the Gospel is about, we need this reading. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke #Luke15 #ProdigalSon #OlderBrother #GodsMission
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 3/31/2019 The 4th Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
One of the things we need to understand about Jesus Christ is that he is no shrinking violet. He doesn’t try to make nice-nice to those who need a kick in the shorts. He is one bold actor on the stage. I remember last fall when I read the Gospel of Luke as if it is a fast paced novel that I could not put down. I kept thinking to myself, “What is this guy going to do next!?” Today, he doesn’t disappoint if we can get out of our mindset that we already know this reading: the Prodigal Son.
We often focus on the son who is the one who is lost, the younger son. He is disrespectful. He asks for his inheritance before his father has even died. In actuality, he is saying that his father is dead to him. He rejects everything that the father has given him. He leaves his father’s house and country. He goes beyond their religion to become a Gentile. He becomes a swine herder. A Jew becomes a swine herder! Talk about unclean of unclean! He even is willing to eat what the pigs eat!
It is when “he comes to himself” that he realizes that being a slave to his father would be better than to be separated from his father. It would be better to be in servitude without an inheritance if it means he can be in the loving care of his father.
This parable resonates with us because we know we are all like that Son. We take for granted what God gives us. We reject him all the time: we skip church, we find every “reasonable” reason not to give the tithe, which is ten percent of our income to the Church, we are too busy to pray, too busy to read the Bible, too this, too that, to structure our life around God. Some of us have even gone into a life of loose living, totally rejecting God, only to find that people in the “cool, hip, and fun” world are not as forgiving as God. We resonate with the younger son because what human beings truly want and need is forgiveness of their sins and a love that will kill the fatted calf for them. We resonate with the younger son because we want God to be the Father who is always waiting on the porch to welcome us home after we have had our “fun.”
Yet, even though the tax collectors conspired with the occupying Romans to make a very large income and the sinners were so egregious in their sins that they were thrown out of the synagogue, this story is not so much about their forgiveness. It does tell us a lot about the character of God and the forgiveness he offers, but this parable is not really about the tax collectors, sinners, or the younger son.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 15, we can get the context and tell to whom this parable is about. This parable is told in the string of lost and found parables to the very people who were criticizing Jesus: the Pharisees. The Pharisees were devout lay people whose lives were dedicated to following God. They were always praying, reading the Torah, interpreting the laws so that they and the people who followed them could be more faithful. They could have had their mail sent to the synagogue they were so dedicated.
It is only human that they would want a reward for their faithfulness. Let’s admit it, there is a little ‘this for that’ in us with God, too. If we didn’t feel that the relationship with God was to our benefit at least in part, then we wouldn’t be doing this. It is the same mindset that set in with the Pharisees, too. So, to see someone who is a prophet like Jesus come to town, it had to be galling that he went to the tax collector who sold out Israel and sinners who threw away their status as the chosen people. I could just see them saying, “bad company ruins good morals,” or “you can tell a person by the company they keep.”
This is true, you know. One of the things that addicts have to do is change all of their friends. The addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, or whatever, is so ingrained in the morality of the people who abuse that the only way to escape is to change the people with whom you gather, the places you go, and the activities you do. So, it would make sense that they would be worried that the prophet would be hanging out with people who could ruin him. Why would you go to synagogue and then go hang out with prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and the like? What exactly are you up to? Are you trying to live in both worlds? Let’s face it, we have seen way too many preachers, pastors, priests, bishops, and cardinals like this in our lifetime.
So, this parable isn’t about the prodigal son. It is about the older son. Look at the beginning verse, “the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them!”” Look at what the older son does: he is off put that the father would receive the younger son after the offenses the younger son has committed. Listen to the words he uses: “I have slaved for you”, “I never disobeyed”, “you never gave me a kid”, which is the tiniest of animals on the farm, “this son of YOURS,” “he devoured your living with prostitutes.” Do you hear the bitter outrage? It is the outrage of one who judges others, AND judges the father in the story. It is the outrage of pride that believes one is deserving of God’s goods. It is the outrage of justice based upon what is desired, not what is needed. Which son is really lost now?
The Jesus of my novel reading has returned. He is not preaching to the sinners and tax collectors, although we get the crumbs off his table. He is preaching to those who are religious and faithful who still cannot get beyond status and works to a relationship with the living God. They are still seeking to be served by God rather than serving with God. It is God’s mission, not theirs. We are part of God’s family, not God part of our family. We are God’s chosen, God is not our chosen.
This is where the Pharisees and scribes got it wrong: Jesus is no ordinary prophet. He is the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is not hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners to sin with them. He is bringing them back home. So, there are two jobs here for those who follow Christ: those who go get the sinners and those who welcome them home. Either way, it is God’s porch. He gets to decide who gets to come home, we don’t. That, my friends, is a good thing.
The Father is merciful. He is patient. He does not insist on his own way. He waits for us, listens to our tantrums, and through it all, he loves the sinners AND the ungrateful saints.
So, whichever you are, Jesus is saying one simple thing: come with the Father and rejoice. The lost have been found. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian