Grace Comes First, 4th Sunday of Lent

Written by Joel on March 17th, 2010

Mar 14, 2010
4th Sunday of Lent
Luke 15:11-32 (The Prodigal Son)


This series of “lost parables” is Jesus’ response. The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. We might normally think that these parables are about repentance. The formula goes: Sinner sins, sinner repents, sinner is found or saved. But in these parables grace comes first! In the parable of the lost sheep the sheep doesn’t do any repenting – the shepherd pursues the lost sheep. The coin doesn’t do any repenting, the woman searches for the coin. And if the prodigal son parable was only about repentance you might expect it to end in verse 15: The younger son squandered his father’s fortune therefore he was longing for pigs food – the end; don’t let it happen to you, so repent!

But the story doesn’t end there. In fact its not even a good confession. It is more stomach driven than heart driven. It is a calculated decision. The younger son figures out that life would be better if he went back to his fathers house, his return is quite selfish. And then he rehearses just the perfect speech to get himself back home.

But even here grace prevails. The son is still a long way off when the father comes running toward the son. The father doesn’t give the son a chance to finish that rehearsed confession – he interrupts him and says “no, I will not accept you back as a servant, but only as a son.”

Do you know what the word prodigal means? I had always thought it meant one who went away and came back. It actually refers to the son’s spending. Prodigal means extravagant or reckless spending. Perhaps this story should be called the prodigal father. His grace might be seen as reckless.

A social worker was on his way home from work one evening and hopped off the New York sub way to an empty platform. Then out of nowhere a teenage approached him with a knife and asked for his wallet. As the teenage walked away the social worker yelled “hey, wait a minute. If you are going to be out robbing all night you should take my jacket so you can stay warm.” The teenager asked “why are you doing this?” and the social worker said “well, if you are willing to risk your life for a few bucks then I guess you really need it. I was just going to get some dinner. Hey, if you’d like to join me you are welcome.” The teenage robber agreed and they went to dinner. The social worker greeted all the workers at the resturant. The teenager was impressed and asked “Do you know all these people?” “No, I’m just nice to these people.” “even the dishwasher?” “Well, I was taught to be nice to everyone.”

When the bill arrived the social worker said “I guess you are going to have to pay because you have my wallet. But if you give it back I will gladly treat you.” The teenager gave the wallet back and the social worker gave him $20, but asked for something in return which the teenage gave him – his knife. Sometimes experiencing prodigal, reckless grace invokes a response in which you can do nothing but change course and repent.

So, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees “why do you eat with sinners and tax collectors?” Because grace comes first.

*Thanks to Rev. Dr. Robert Dunham for the illustration from NPR.


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