It’s Not Fair – It’s Grace

March 27, 2022 – Lent IV         

This is Laetare Sunday – it comes from the Introit, or entrance, of the Latin Mass which invites us to rejoice.  “Rejoice O Jerusalem.”  This mid-point in our Lenten observance invites us to step back, take a deep breath and relax for a moment – the most difficult days of this Lenten season are still ahead of us.

          This morning’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32), gives us the Story of the Prodigal Son.  This story is known by other titles – “The Forgiving Father,” “The Two Lost Brothers,” and “The Wandering Son” as examples.  This parable is the subject of many works of art, both contemporary and classical.  Perhaps the most famous is Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal” which is on display in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

          We know the story from our earliest days.  The younger son says to his father, “Give me my share of the inheritance” (which is another way of saying, “I wish you were dead”).  The father grants his request, and the younger son takes off on his journey to a foreign place where he spends his money in what our narrator calls, “dissolute living.”  His money gone, and famine crushing the land, the younger son hires himself out to a local pig farmer.  In the Jewish mind of Jesus’ day, this was as low as someone could get.  Even skid row was better than this, because for the Jewish people this was death in one of its most hideous forms.  While he is sitting in the pigsty, in the slop, he comes to a moment of insight – what my wife, Lynn, would call a BFO or “blinding flash of the obvious.”  He realizes that his father’s hired servants are better off that he is, so resolves to return home hoping that his father will give up a job with kosher meals and a warm, clean place to sleep.

          Now, the father gets involved in our story.  Perhaps, it’s the father, however, who is truly the “prodigal” in the Gospel, the one who loves extravagantly, and does not withdraw that love in the face of the disrespect, greed, resentment, and surliness shown by his sons. The God we see mirrored in the prodigious welcome of the father is in fact the same God we saw reflected in the extra care offered to the barren fig tree by the gardener in last week’s gospel.

          One of my favorite pieces of this gospel is the seemingly insignificant detail that the father, when he saw his long-gone son approaching, picked up his robes and ran. As it turns out, respectable men in those days would not have been seen running, probably would have disdained running at all, and yet, this father tears down the road, robes flying to meet his child. What an awesome image!

          The father embraces his son and does not hear the son’s confession, rather orders that he be given the clothing appropriate to the young man’s status as a son.  Then the party begins.

          About this time the older brother comes home from a long day in the field with the family flock.  He hears the music, smells the bar-b-que, and asks what is going on.  He learns that his younger brother has returned, and his father is throwing a party to celebrate.  The older brother flies into a rage and tells everyone within ear shot – “it’s NOT FAIR!”

          How often have our children or grandchildren said during a game, or life itself, “but it’s not fair?”  The father reaches out to his older son and explains that welcoming his brother home was the right thing to do, because he is no longer dead, but alive.  Restoration to life, and forgiveness go hand in hand.  The younger son could not be restored until he made the decision to return home.  The older son could not be reconciled until he understood that his brother was still his brother no matter what.  In both cases, the father becomes the source of grace and mercy for both.

          So, what does this mean for us?  Perhaps this – God is not fair, because life isn’t fair.  However, God is a God of grace and mercy who gives us the strength and resources to meet those moments when life’s unfairness comes crashing in.  More importantly, God graces us with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection.  That grace is why we rejoice on this Laetare Sunday.   Amen.

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