It is Prodigal Son week!!!! The lessons are set up perfectly to preach this well known and well worn story. A short, non sequitur, Old Testament lesson and a decent, but easily ignored snippet from Paul, clearly indicate that the brains behind the RCL would like for us to focus our attention on the Prodigal Son. I promise that I’ll obey the great RCL hive mind as the week goes on, but first, my attention this morning is focused on the lead up to the story.
By this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is drawing quite a crowd to him. Many in that crowd are faithful Jews, living out their relationship with God as best they know how. Some, however are sinners, with others are generally undesirable. It seems to be that latter group that speaks up in Sunday’s lesson, as the Pharisees and scribes mummer aloud, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Mr. Robertson, of Robertson’s Word Pictures (published 1930), notes that the verb “welcome” is constructed such that this is a habit of Jesus. One might go further to say that it is one of his distinguishing characteristics. Jesus is in the business of welcoming and eating with sinners. That might not seem unsettling to us today, but in the Jewish culture of 1st century Palestine, this was simply not done. Cleanliness was next to Godliness, and hanging out with sinners made cleanliness nigh impossible. Sharing a meal with them was even worse; as sharing a meal was one of the most intimate encounters one could have with another person. To share a meal, with the traditional sharing of bowls and cups, made it certain that one who was clean, is now very much not so any longer.
It is out of those charges that Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son/Father/God. He doesn’t fight the charges, but rather embraces them as sign and symbol of his calling. Jesus says, in effect, “Yes, this is what I’m about: welcoming and eating with sinners.” Would that such a charge could be made of me, which got me wondering, what do people say about me? What do people say about you?
Everything Jesus did was indicative of his status as the Son of God. I’m certain that not everything I do shows off my status as a disciple, as an inheritor of the Kingdom, as a Christian. I wonder how often people look at me and think, “what a hypocrite”? How often do they see Christ in me? When do they see me as anything different from the normal young professional, struggling to keep family, faith, work, and everything else in the right order? Does my desire for the Kingdom show with regularity in the way I live my life? I certainly hope so, and thank God for forgiveness when it doesn’t.