In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In recent years, it has become fashionable to call him “the Lost Son.” That is a fine label, but we hear this morning the story of the Prodigal Son. While it is the same person, there is a difference in these names. In everyday English, those that actually uses the word “prodigal” often use it to mean “lost” or “runaway.” But that is not what it means. It means: “wasteful!”
Today we see a wasteful situation all around. It begins with the younger son approaching his father. He basically tells him, “Dad, we’d all be better off if you were dead. I wish I was an orphan and could just have my inheritance.” It breaks his father’s heart, but the dad is so kind and merciful that he says, “Well, I’m not dead, but I can give you your inheritance early.” And so he does. And so the son takes off for another country, where he squanders all his wealth on wine, women, and song. He has many friends as long as he has the money for the life of loose, immoral partying.
Where does his wasteful lifestyle get him: in the deepest depths of poverty. For this wasteful son, when the money dries up, it just so happens that the economy does too. A famine hits, and there is no food. He is a foreigner with no money and no food. He seems hopeless. He accepted the most humiliating work. For a young Jewish man, tending pigs was as low as you could get. And he even began to look at the pig slop as appealing food!
Pretty easy to see how this younger son is wasteful. Finally, as he is at his lowest point he realizes how wrong he has been. He is repentant. He rehearses a speech about how sinful and wasteful he’s been, hoping to be hired on as a servant at his father’s house.
All these months have passed, and the father still looks for his wasteful son. He sees him in the distance, and runs out to greet him. He embraces his younger son in unquestioning love and forgiveness. He welcomes his son, not even letting him finish his repentance speech. And he throws a feast. He celebrates his younger son returning. He celebrates forgiveness and a new start on life.
But here is where the older son enters in. He has a fit! “Dad!” he cries, “How could you!? That’s so wasteful! There he went, wasting your money on sinful, immoral living, and you just let him walk back in?! He threw it all away and you welcome him?!”
How often have you heard this story and stood shoulder to shoulder with the older brother. “At least I haven’t wasted my money on booze and brothels!” you may have said. “What a terrible sinner! At least that older brother stayed and did his duty, loyal to his father and a better steward of the family wealth.”
But do you see it? His terrible attitude? He moans and complains that his father is being wasteful in showing forgiveness and mercy. He claims the father is wasteful in his steadfast love that endures forever. As an individual, if you stand in judgment over someone, you are engaging in the same prideful sin as the older brother. The younger brother was indeed sinning earlier in the story, but he ends up repenting. The older son is obstinate in a refusal to forgive and stands in judgment at the end of the story, self-righteous and thinking of himself more highly than his younger brother. He remains in his sin!
Repent! You sit here and have been thinking and thanking God that you don’t squander your money on this kind of hedonism. But, like the elder son, you remain a conceited sinner who judges God as wasteful in His mercy on other sinners.
Repent like the younger brother, realizing that you have no good in you, and don’t deserve to be a son of the Father. And in His amazing, so-called “wasteful” mercy and forgiveness, He claims you as His own.
Our dear Savior suffered all, and died on His cross that this “wastefulness” of God might be extended to all. He took on your sin and died the death to punish your wastefulness. He removes all that guilt, so that our loving heavenly Father runs out to greet you again and again. With each and every repentance that He gives you, He embraces you in His mercy and builds you up in His forgiveness and love.
The “wasteful” Father gives the wasteful son a beautiful robe that he has neither earned nor deserved. It covers him in his father’s love with a wonderful gift! He also places a signet ring on his hand. That ring was a sign of belonging, acceptance, and the family name. Such rings had the family name or sign on them, having the authority of the name.
At Holy Baptism, you were covered with the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness. All your flaws and imperfections, all your sinful wastefulness is covered by Christ. At Baptism you also had the name of God given to you. You were sealed in His name, witnessing to the belonging and acceptance that the Father in heaven gave you. By the authority of His name, you are a forgiven, newborn child in His family.
Thanks be to God that He has a holy “wastefulness” that is outrageously generous in His love and mercy. His merciful “wastefulness” removes your guilt and sin, that you may always be welcomed in His embrace and be gathered to His feast. And that is exactly what He does – He gathers you to His feast, where He feeds you His body and blood – body and blood that were given and shed for you. Some would challenge the Lord and say that was a waste, but we know better. The truth is that our dear Lord Jesus is giving Himself for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, and that is no waste at all! Amen.