Lent 4C

image: “Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt (Wikimedia)


157: March 6, 2016

317: March 31, 2019

Featured Musician: Rob Leveridge

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Voice in the Wilderness: Casey Fitzgerald

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Why did Jesus tell the story? Who was his audience?

    • V.1-3 Pharisees are upset that Jesus eats and welcomes sinners

    • Three stories were a direct response to the grumbling

      • Lost sheep

      • Lost coin

      • Lost sons

    • All about the rejoicing over finding what was lost - in direct opposition to grumbling of those who already considered themselves “found.”

      • Do we grumble or do we rejoice?

  • Son asks for inheritance - scandalous

    • By asking for his inheritance the son is rejecting his father and family and saying, “I wish you were dead.”

    • The inheritance was not money, but livestock and mainly: land. This is land what would have been in the family for generations.

    • Furthermore to sell the land quick and presumably to someone “from the outside“ would disrupt the entire community.

    • Scandal - the expectation is for the father to reject the request and punish the son for making such a ludicrous request.

      • Even if the Father had “given” the son his land, he was expected to retain control over it until his death. Here the father gives the land (to make money from) AND the right to sell the land (so the son could “gather” everything)- absurd.

  • Prodigal means wasteful

    • Traditionally alludes to the wasteful nature of the son’s spending

    • However, could also be the story of the Father’s “wasteful grace” - the Father gives his son the freedom to reject, wish he was dead and squander what the Father has spent his life working for.

    • There is some question about whether the son could come back at all. While there are a lot of Christian references to the Kezazah Ceremony (lit. Cutting off ceremony), including Kenneth Bailey, finding evidence of this in Jewish literature is hard to find. The reference in the Babylonian Talmud doesn’t seem to apply. However, it is interesting.

    • V. 15 - The Greek word καλλαω translated as “hired himself” actually mean to cling or attach oneself. To be a “hanger on”. The job of feeding the pigs was probably an act of mercy on the Gentiles behalf.

    • Repentance?

      • Not really. The son never expresses regret - only a fear of dying and a wish to be filled. The focus remains on himself, not on what he has done to others.

      • This is emphasized in his planned confession, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” which is a paraphrase of Pharaoh’s declaration to Moses to get the plagues to stop, “I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you.” (Ex. 10:16) As we know, Pharaoh was not repentant, but wanted to stop suffering

  • Return Home - Dad breaks all the rules

    • Runs -  leaving behind his dignity, honor, and right to exact punishment.

    • He is shameful in how he accepts this son who had disgraced him, even going so far as to run (a most undignified act) to welcome him home.

      • “This may not seem like much to us but a man who ran like this in Jesus time would have been bringing shame on himself. It was below his station and more than that in the act of running he would have exposed his legs in a way which would have been considered indecent. I am reminded at this moment in the story of when King danced with such joy and enthusiasm that his robes also flew up inappropriately. The father risks bringing shame on himself in order to greet the son. This is the depth of his love; he is willing to shame himself and expose his legs, even before the son has offered his confession.” (Peter Lockhart, A Different Heresy)

    • Ring (family signet ring) granting authority and access to possessions (all that’s the father’s is the son’s).

    • Shoes grants a return of status: shoes were worn in the house by the master, not by guests who removed them on arrival.

    • Fatted calf (might feed 100 people) whereas the community should reject the young son (see Kezazah Ceremony) instead they are invited to celebrate his return

  • Older son

    • Like the father running our to the younger son, now the father leaves his party and his guest to beg his other son

      • Also a shameful display. The Father would not leave his guest and banquet, especially not to beg to someone who is “lesser”

    • The dialogue is great - pay attention to the possessive phrases: v. 30 - “this son of yours”; v.32 - “this brother of yours”

    • Completely valid outrage and complaint from a rational and “fair” point of view

    • The older son begins acting like the younger son:

      • believes he is entitled to his father’s possessions (ring, shoes, fatted calf, etc)

      • Separates himself from the family

      • Disrespects the father

    • Like the Pharisees the older brother has done “everything right” but misses the point. The banquet does not celebrate the younger son, but rather the father’s grace.

      • The Pharisees are also welcome to the banquet - they are invited, but, like the older son, choose not to eat with “sinners”

    • The older brother sees himself not as a son, but as a hand, he misunderstands his own place in the Father’s life, so he is offended by the other son’s newfound place in it.

  • Which son is lost?

    • Brian McLaren, in his book Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, says As we tell it, the story climaxes when a runaway boy returns home feeling disgraced, hoping to re-enter the household as a slave, and the father graciously receives him as a son. But the real climax, I propose, comes later, when the father slips out of the welcome-home party to speak with the alienated older brother outside.” (p. 161)

    • “The elder brother is Pecksniff. He is Tartuffe. He is what Mark Twain called a good man in the worst sense of the word. He is a caricature of all that is joyless and petty and self-serving about all of us. The joke of it is that of course his father loves him even so, and has always loved him and will always love him, only the elder brother never noticed it because it was never love he was bucking for but only his due. The fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his, too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them.” (Frederick Buechner website, the blog post “Parables as Comedy)

Thoughts and Questions

  • Play Guess Who?

    • Which one are you?

    • Different every time we read it. Different any moment of my life. Sometimes I feel like the younger son, who has to “come to my senses.” Sometimes I feel like the older son, wondering why this other one would be loved. Sometimes I’m the Pharisee, grumbling at the truth about the Kingdom which Jesus reveals.

  • Open-ended.

    • Unknown if the brothers actually reconcile.

    • Unknown if the brother was actually repentant, or if he just wanted better food.

    • It is known how the Pharisees responded - “They sneered at him.”

    • Unknown how we will respond

  • Emotion

    • There are so many wonderfully human and divine emotions in this parable: the arrogance of the young son, the hurt-filled love of the father, the despair of the young son, the ecstasy of the father, the anger of the older son, the patience of the father, etc.

    • Don’t get so bogged down in all the details that you miss the emotional trajectory

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Initial Thoughts

  • The last two verses of this text are the first two verses of the reading each year for Ash Wednesday.

    • This is a passage about transformation, and seeing things in a new light.

    • That, after all, is the purpose of Lent.

    • It is not just about dwelling on our own sin, but on meditating on the meaning of metanoia - to change one’s heart and life. This passage is about how Paul’s whole perspective changed by seeing through the lens of Christ.

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • “So then” implies what comes before matters.

      • V. 13-15 “If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.”

    • Paul’s second letter, working for reconciliation within the church. There are factions within the church, some who accuse Paul of not being worthy of leadership.

    • “2 Corinthians is one of Paul’s most personal and heartfelt letters… He and the Corinthian congregation had a serious conflict that enabled rival missionaries to question his ministry and lead the Corinthian church in directions he didn’t like.” (David Downs, Common English Study Bible, p. 335NT)

  • Ministry of Reconciliation

    • Reconciliation is what God does.

    • Reconciliation was the mission of Jesus. It was not a passive thing. It was an action that God took to bridge that gap that was left between us by sin.

    • “Paul emphasizes that God has gone into action over our sin. He has not just smiled sweetly and waited for us to come to our senses, nor has he simply hoped that given time we would change our attitudes.”  (Ernest Best, Interpretation: Second Corinthians, p. 56)

    • “The result of this cosmic reconciliation is that we now look at everything differently. We look at everything and everyone through the lens of reconciliation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation as we call others to believe in Jesus and so find themselves in a good relationship with God. But it’s not just about the vertical dimension between God and us. Being caught up in God’s salvation changes everything on this human, horizontal plane, too.” (Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching)

    • “A contemporary theologian who has done a tremendous amount of thinking about reconciliation is Miroslav Volf. He once wrote that in God’s heavenly kingdom, it cannot be just impersonal forces of evil that are done away with. It cannot be just the entire creation, broadly conceived, which gets reconciled with its God. No, Volf says, it has to get more specific than that. Before we can all dwell happily together in the shalom of God’s kingdom there needs to be real reconciliation between earthly enemies. Perpetrators and victims must embrace. Those who have lived in conflict need to have that conflict put away if there is to be shalom. It’s not just the lion and the lamb that need to learn to curl up next to one another but all of us who have lived as the human equivalents of lambs and lions in how we have treated each other. There can be no peace in God’s kingdom so long as there is anyone there who would just as soon cross over to the other side of a golden street in order to avoid you.” (Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching)

  • New Creation in Christ

    • This is the story of Easter (for which we are preparing)

    • If we are “in Christ” then we must see as Christ sees, and join in the ministry of Christ. Christ saw the beauty in all, and his ministry was one of reconciliation.

    • Christ’s ministry of reconciliation culminated on the Cross, Christ’s ministry of reconciliation is an eternal one because of Resurrection.

    • We share in ministry of reconciliation because we are “new in Christ.”

    • “What God offers in love may be refused and what Jesus has borne for others may be ignored. Many may not even know about it. So it is necessary that what Jesus has done should be brought home to them. A preacher is needed, though not necessarily one who uses a pulpit.” (Ernest Best, Interpretation: Second Corinthians, p. 57)

Thoughts and Questions

  • “In response, Paul urges those believers to engage in a “ministry of reconciliation.” Recounting how we have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he implores the Corinthians to be reconciled to one another, “From now on,” he writes, “we regard no one from a human point of view...if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Truth be told, we have a difficult time these days even seeing one another from a human point of view — seeing each other’s humanity and as fellow pilgrims on our earthly pilgrimage — rather than a caricature of a political platform or a potential threat. More than ever, we need to rediscover our common humanity — but Paul calls us further. He calls the Corinthians and us to regard one another as beloved children, faithful and flawed, of the same God — a God whose chief work in Christ on the cross was reconciliation.”  (Keith Anderson, HuffPost)

    • Can you be reconciled to Christ and not reconciled to your brother and sister? Paul might argue, “no”

  • From the Africa Study Bible, a great perspective on reconciliation: “The creators of the colonial boundaries in Africa certainly bear great blame for many of the tribal conflicts the continent has experienced. But intertribal conflicts are as old as our continent. Colonial boundaries just magnified them…. 2000 years ago, God offered his Son, Jesus to reconcile us to God. That meant that the barriers between God and us were removed. That meant that what had caused division was gone. That meant we were no longer enemies but friends of God…. Because of our reconciliation to God, we are now able to spread this Good News near and far. Jesus, the son of God, is a peacemaker…. As children of God, we become peacemakers. Let us embrace our holy calling as peacemakers and work for reconciliation throughout our communities, nations, and continent. And may our reconciliation to God be the first step in all Africans being reconciled to one another.”

Joshua 5:9-12

Initial Thoughts

  • Arguable should begin with Joshua 5:1

    • Why pass up the chance to say “Hill of Foreskins” in church?

  • Chance to tell the “end” of the Exodus

  • One of the three times Joshua is in the entire lectionary

  • God’s promise is kept… it only took a little over 40 years

Bible Study

  • Context:

    • Have entered the land, but have not possessed the land - Comes next with the “battle of Jericho”

  • Promise and Fulfillment

    • Possibly a post-exilic editing by the Deuteronomistic writers

    • Message to the Israelites entering the land is similar to the exiles - God’s power is greater than Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar - God will save despite what the “powers” of the world try

    • What do we need to be saved from? What are we being saved for?

    • “Today I have rolled away the disgrace” = you are no longer defined by your slavery and landlessness, but as those who were saved

      • new identity

      • new food

      • new circumcision

      • new ritual

  • Collective Memory and Divine Encounter

    • Israelites recommit to God - “second circumcision”

    • Concern that the Israelites will be tempted away by the Canaanite fertility Gods

      • Easier to be faithful when God is directly providing what we need to survive - harder to see God at work within ourselves and nature

    • Isn’t Lent a kind of re-circumcision? A rededication of ourselves as the people of God

    • It is amazing how a collective memory or experience binds people together - what are we doing to create those memories in the church?

  • Ritual, Remembrance and faithfulness

    • The first generation that did not experience the “Passover”

    • They cannot remember the Passover event itself, but they choose to define themselves by this event of God’s saving action - similar to Eucharist?

    • Rituals have the power to create community and reinforce communal identity

    • Manna is a memory of how God provided during a very difficult time- but also a memory of the unfaithfulness of Israel who complained against God - it is important to remember both the good and the bad in our past

  • Connection with Luke and Psalm 32 (thanks to W. Dennis Tucker from Workingpreacher.com)

    • forgiveness - The Israelites will no longer be defined by their slavery or unfaithfulness, but by their renewed covenant with God - who keeps God’s promises

    • Psalm 32:1 - Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven

Thoughts and Questions

  • It can be very difficult to be thankful and faithful when things are going well. How can we ritualize thankful celebration? How can we remember to thank God for all the good things without deceiving ourselves into thinking we have done it all on our own?

  • Why are rituals important to our life of faith? What are the important “Passovers” in your community that need repeating and remembering?

  • Passover is about salvation (the saving power of God) What is salvation? What are we being saved for? What from?

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.