Isa. 12:1-6; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
Reconciliation, … God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation … (v. 18).
Ancient Israel was baptized into Moses to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), to offer sacrifices on account of sin, feed the people therewith; intercede on their behalf; and to proclaim the extravagant deeds of the Lord (Isa. 12:4).
Washed in the Red Sea to its calling, Israel was God’s “firstborn son” (4:22) and elder brother to a world of sinners and Gentiles. Israel failed its office; which is where we find Jesus, God’s beloved Son from eternity (Lk. 3:22), anointed in his humanity to be “new Israel”, elder brother to men for reconciliation to God’s household.
By baptism into Christ’s once for all sacrifice and fidelity to his feeding, the church is a “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), that reflects the substance and character (the “ousia”) of God in the world.
At his baptism Jesus was immediately conflicted toward the Jewish religious leaders continuing their claim as Israel’s surrogates. The stakes were high; matters for one or the other would not end well. When Israel’s religious establishment criticized Jesus for eating with sinners (Lk. 15:1, 2), he delivers today’s parable, “the Prodigal Son, the Elder Brother, and their loving Father”.
The parable intends we ask, with which character do we identify? Most people probably relate with the young prodigal; and so, you should. At one time you may have gone off the rails into a life of sin, later by God’s word, converting to partake of God’s holy things for your salvation. But again, consider where you stand today in the parable. Certainly, you are not pictures of the father, for none but God has ever exhibited unconditioned forgiveness, love and mercy.
Neither should we stand with the curious, surprised and/or ambivalent villagers who observe the father’s outrageous prodigal grace toward his household; after all Christians know our Father. Once you were lost in the world; but today, in Christ you are found and made alive through the church’s ministry of reconciliation.
The church’s Baptism embraces you with a welcoming kiss of peace from Jesus your elder Brother on behalf of our Father. By daily confession of sin, you wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness, the ring of office for love in the world; the sandals of a freeman signifying willing service in the Father’s house, possessed of all rights and prerogatives of sons and daughters in eucharistic fellowship.
So, with whom should we identify; not the parable’s over-thrown, spiteful, and unloving elder brother acted out by the scribes and Pharisees and despising Jesus for “eating with sinners”; rather with Christ, God’s new Israel, our new Elder Brother and High Priest come for reconciliation.
The prodigal son demanded his father divide his “estate”, using a Greek word, “ousia”. But christologically, “ousia” denotes, God’s “essence” or “substance”; and when applied to Jesus, our true, substantial, and priceless treasure, and we his, we comprehend the parable’s father (cf. Jn. 17:3); his outrageous mercy and maniacal desire for reconciliation in the face of his sons’ treacheries (cf. Mt. 10:36).
Both the younger prodigal and elder “sons” were from the loins of the same father, possessed of his being. This morning, by the Nicene Creed, you employed this language of Jesus, “I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ… being of one substance (“‘omo ousiov”) with the Father…”
At first, neither the prodigal son nor the watching village comprehends the father’s “ousia”. They believe his substance consists of worldly assets; and that the younger son’s sin consisted in squandering the family estate among foreigners; certainly, this was the elder brother’s uncharitable perspective; despising his father’s other son, unable to forgive.
It is only when the prodigal son was fully reconciled to the father in the sight of the village and in the hearing of the elder brother that the true nature of the Prodigal’s sin dawns on us. It turns out that the Prodigal’s sinful excesses were perversely revelatory of the father own nature.
The father’s every action toward his sons was the very definition of being “prodigal”; outrageously extravagant and unwise (“spare the rod and you’ll spoil that child”). The father’s distribution of his estate was infinitely more extravagant than the Prodigal’s wastrel life, (“like father, like son”).
Because the Prodigal’s “ousia” was of his father, even in utter depravity, the father’s love remained. True repentance in humility was worked in the prodigal son, from the father’s extravagant, longsuffering mercy in outpouring a father’s love (1 Jn. 4:19).
Jesus explains his “ousia” from the Father’s eternal begetting; Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (Jn. 14:8, 9).
The great surprise then is not that the Prodigal son was extreme in his sin and equally as extreme in coming to penitence in the presence of pure grace; but in a perverse way he was exhibiting his father’s prodigal or extravagant character for mercy and longsuffering love.
Unexpected in the parable is the attitude of the elder son, who also fully participated in the father’s distribution; yet despising his father he refused his office as “firstborn” reconciler on his brother’s return to the father’s house and their community.
Again, the point of Israel’s baptism into Moses was becoming a nation of priests, “firstborn” of God for revealing his “ousia” in the world; by which knowledge of God’s merciful and gracious character might bring about the life of a dead and dying world in the love of Christ.
By Baptism we join in Jesus’ “ousia”. The Spirit, the water, and the blood (1 Jn. 5:6-8) from the cross, conveys the “ousia” of the Father’s merciful love.
By the ministry of Christ in his church, we are brothers and fellow priests of Jesus’ self-donation for the world’s reconciliation, beginning with the Eucharistic dining of sinners and praise at the King’s table, first for forgiveness and going forth in changed lives. Amen.