4th Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2016
Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Epistle: 2 Cor 5:16-21
Lesson: Is 12:1-6
Psalm: Psalm 32
From the New International Commentary on the New Testament: by Norval Geldenhuys
13 The younger son collected all his possessions that he had received as a present from his father and lost no time in going and enjoying his newly found freedom and goods in selfish indulgence. He tears himself away from the parental home and goes to a distant land in order to be as far away as possible from the watchful eye of his father so that he may be able to live as he likes without restraint. The result was that he soon wasted his substance in riotous living with others. He had fled in order to be outside the sphere of influence of his father and to be free and independent, but in the distant country he had come under influences that caused him to fall into the worst form of bondage–the fetters of sin had bound him in their deadly toils. He had exchanged the real freedom which consisted in obedience to his father’s loving will for the servitude of sinful profligacy, and together with the precious treasures which he had received as a gift from his father he lost his character too.
Thus a life of sin and error, our Lord teaches in this parable, is in its deepest and innermost nature the rebellious breaking away of man’s life from God. Under a deceptive yearning of so-called freedom such a person enters the distant country of sin, there to waste in selfishness and dissipation the precious gifts which he has received from God. All those things which a man wastes and destroys when he lives in sin he has received from God as gifts wherewith to glorify God and to experience real happiness in life; for who but the Creator gives to man his physical, intellectual and spiritual capacity and power; and who else is the Maker of everything in nature that is intended to redound to man’s highest well-being?…
18, 19 Now, however, he does not fall into despondency and self-pity, but decides to bid farewell to the “far country” and to return to his father. With his remorse for his sin there is also joined his faith that his father will not reject him at his house-door. At the same time, however, we must note that, from what he has decided to say to his father, it is clear that he has come to true repentance and a realization of his guilt. He does not merely bewail his distress that forms such a glaring contrast even with the condition of his father’s casual laborers; we must also observe that he does not decide to go back to his father merely in order to be freed from his distress. No, above all he bewails his deep guilt and desires to utter no other words but those of unconditional confession of guilt–the admission that he has sinned against God and against his father–and the entreaty to be received, not as his father’s son, but simply as a hireling. For he feels that he is not worthy to be called his father’s son. Whereas formerly he demanded his portion in self-sufficient pride, he is now quite willing , in his humility, to take the very lowest place and to obey his father’s commands. Thus real remorse and the unconditional confession of sin are the indispensable requirements for true repentance. The lost one must first realize that he has no right to claim that he should be accepted as a child of God on his own merit. Whosoever desires to go to God, trusting in his own dignity or making excuses instead of confessing his sins openly, is in no condition to receive the forgiveness of God. …
21 Profoundly touched by his father’s inconceivable magnanimity and love, the prodigal son’s realization of sin is deeper than ever before and he confesses: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” There is nothing that makes one realize so clearly the sinfulness of one’s sin and one’s utter unworthiness as the personal experience of the love with which the Heavenly Father welcomes the repentant sinner.
22 In his complete forgivingness the father does not even allow his son to voice his entreaty to be accepted as one of his hired servants. After his son’s whole-hearted confession of sin the father commands his servants to bring the robe of honor and to put it on him, and to give him a ring for his hands and shoes for his feet–everything as a sign that he accepts his lost son fully as a son and re-establishes him in a position of honour. …
25-8 Thus far the Saviour pointed in the parable to the bitter fruits of a life without God in the “far country” of sin, to the remorse and return of the erring one, to the welcoming love of the Father and His joy at the repentance of a sinner. And now, in describing the attitude of the elder brother, Jesus presents a clear picture of the folly of the Pharisees and scribes who are dissatisfied with Him for receiving publicans and sinners. Just as the elder brother, instead of rejoicing with his father at the joyful celebrations and at the honor shown to the returned one, so also the Jewish religious leaders reveal a spirit out of harmony with the heavenly Father in His welcoming the “publicans” and sinners through Jesus.
It is noteworthy that the father also goes out to the elder brother to invite him to come in. He is not biased, but treats both his sons with the same tenderness and affection. He has perfect love for the elder brother as well as for the younger. So the Lord not only longs for the “publicans” and sinners to repent, but also that the Pharisees and scribes (those who outwardly still remained with the Father but were inwardly estranged from Him) should come to Him and share his love for the lost.
29, 30 From these words it is abundantly clear how the elder son had inwardly strayed from his father. “I have not at any time transgressed thy commandment,” he declares, thereby saying in effect that he regarded his relation to his father as one of slavish bondage instead of the free and spontaneous relationship of a child. In addition his words reveal the fact that in his self-conceit he regards himself as the perfect son and in his bitter censoriousness looks upon his brother as exactly the opposite. In his own eyes he himself deserves all honour and veneration while his brother has no longer any right to what belongs to his father. So he regards his father’s action as extreme partiality in favor of the prodigal whom he no longer recognizes even as his brother (for he speaks of him as “thy son” and not as “my brother”).
In this way the Saviour effectively depicts the whole attitude of the pharisees–for they also are inwardly estranged from God and have allowed their religion to degenerate into slavish bondage and self-righteousness. While they themselves remain spiritually cold and far removed from God, they despise and avoid persons like the “publicans” and sinners who in their eyes are no longer worthy to be members of the real people of Israel. …
32 The other accusation of the elder brother that the prodigal is loaded with honors is also refuted by the father. He declares that it is impossible for a family not to rejoice when a prodigal son (however miserable his life has been) has returned home. The hearty welcome extended to the younger brother has, therefore, nothing to do with a reward according to deserts, but is wholly a matter for rejoicing and gratitude that one of the family has come back in the fullest sense of the word. In this Jesus reveals the root of the error of the Pharisees and scribes by making them feel that God’s attitude towards men is not paid for through so-called meritorious works like slavish observance of the Law and faithful compliance with outward forms, but through His love and grace towards everyone who truly turns to God and thus comes into real inward communion with Him.