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The Hunger

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
November 7, 2021
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If we were to put our collective reflections of this parable, all together, in a big pot and stir, we could come up with 10,000 sermons. It’s as well known as The Good Samaritan and has been told from every perspective under the sun.

There are sermons, poems, films, operas, art created from the standpoint of every single character: the father, the older brother, the younger brother, the servants, the farmer from the far-off country.

There have been sermons from the viewpoint of the Pharisees, the musicians at the banquet, the ring, sandals, and robe, and my personal favorite, a sermon from the perspective of the pigs. From whatever direction we experience this scripture, we all know that a lost life tells a story: A young man runs from home. A young man loses his life. A young man crawls back home. A young man is saved.

To understand this young man, we first need to consider that the parable, is placed within a conversation, between Jesus and his critics, who are disgusted with whom Jesus has chosen to dine. He is accused of eating with scoundrels, reprobates, degenerates.

And as we are all taught growing up, your character is demonstrated by the company you keep. Jesus, obviously was hanging out with the “wrong” kind of people, and those in authority are scandalized. In telling the parable of the Prodigal, Jesus turns the conversation about dinner guests on its head.

The company Jesus keeps at meals doesn’t speak of his character, he says, but to the transformation a meal has with those who are lost. In the telling, Jesus also knows who’s hungry: hungry for power, for control; hungry for regulations, for justice; hungry to punish; hungry  for compassion.

I think, for Jesus, the problem with his detractors is that they’re starving to death. They’re so focused on being right, that they’re starving from being wrong. Like any of us who act as critics, so intent on being correct, we burn our bridges, and are starved for connection. The problem as Jesus sees it, is starvation.

And if the problem is starvation. The solution is sustenance.

The sustenance of grace. This story has always been one of grace.

The picture Jesus paints and the story he tells is of three men who are starving to death.

A young man is starving for something at home. He’s impetuous, careless, empty, demanding. His soul is vacant that he runs off to fill himself with carousing, using, depravity. Still ravenous he throws himself into debauchery of every kind. Nothing fills him up. And then as he physically starves in the midst of a famine, while sitting in a pig sty, he somehow finds a way to call out to heaven,

‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread

enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

I will get up. I will go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son;

treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

 

There’s a father who feels like dying because he may never see his son again. Inside he is starving for a word of news, beating himself up after having given his son the means to disappear. This father is ravenous for a piece of gossip from the city. Who has seen my son? Have you seen my son?  He is so famished for a scrap of hope; he waits each day at the hilltop near the field, so as to catch a glimpse of his boy.

The older brother starved for attention. Furious that all responsibility has been left to him. He’s aching and sweat-stained after a day in the fields, longing for a shower, a meal, a bed. Craving time with friends, a song, a dance, a robe, ring, and fatted calf. So embittered and disillusioned that nothing seems to matter anymore. He is empty, in need of consideration and regard; famished for an  embrace and justice, tenderness and ease. [ii]

When the critics are upset that Jesus is eating with the wrong kind of people, Jesus takes them to a story that, rather than mirroring their miserliness, feeds the soul. He sets a banquet table before them. A banquet that dispels the hunger. A banquet that welcomes the cast-outs and the cast-ins; those who are shamed and those who haven’t a clue what shame feels like. Jesus welcomes the slovenly and the couture.

It’s a wide open table that feeds, sustains, nourishes, and fills up. A banquet table of Reunion & Restoration; of Relationship & Reconciliation. A table where the lost are found and there’s room for everyone. [iii] A table of repentance and forgiveness.

And Jesus offers a table of forgiveness and the experience of repentance – a turning around, a change in perspective, bringing us full circle, of being lost and turning around and be found.[iv]

Unlike the English word repentance, which implies contrition and remorse, the Greek word metanoia has to do with a change of mind and purpose – a shift in how we perceive and respond to life.[v]

And here’s the miracle, when we come to our senses and turn toward home, God is there to grant us an identity beyond what we have done, are doing, or may someday do. God is there to cleanse us and wash us; to feed and nourish. God is there to tuck us under her wing, and to heal any kind of behavior – whether it’s as prodigals, scoundrels, reprobates, or degenerates.

The church of Jesus Christ is the place to bring our hunger, our lost-ness, our dreams and disappointments, confident that when we turn toward God, the doors are thrown open to the dance floor, the music begins, the banquet is served.

In the end, our parable isn’t about sin or righteousness, and not even about being lost and found….

It’s about a God,

so crazy in love with us

that God will do anything to find us.[vi]

 

There’s a God so crazy in love with you,

that God will do anything to find you.

 

And then God feeds us. Here.

Prodigals, scoundrels, reprobates, degenerates all.

The hunger.

It is over.

And the new life?

The new life has begun.

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32 (NRSV) Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable…“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

 

[ii] Debie Thomas. “Letters to Prodigals.” February 28, 2016, journeywithjesus.net.

 

[iii] Robert Cornwall. “Welcome Home: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.” March 1, 2016. bobcornwall.com.

 

[iv] David Lose. “Lost,” Luke 15:1-10. Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, September 9, 2013, workingpreacher.org.

[v] Lois Malcolm. Luke 15:1-10. Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, September 15, 2013,  workingpreacher.org.

[vi] David Lose.