Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and rejoice. For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found and they began to celebrate with joy. Luke 15:23-24
The Mass, which the church has been celebrating with joy since Pentecost, is a mirror image of the Lord's life, death and resurrection. The first part of his public ministry could be termed the Service of the Word. He devoted three years to teaching God's word to men and calling them to repentance. The same is true about the church's weekly celebration. It begins with the liturgy of the word. In it Jesus still teaches heavenly realities to earthbound men, and still calls us to turn from our sins and hold to him alone for our soul's salvation.
The second part of the Lord's ministry corresponds to the Service of the Sacrament. As his earthly ministry was about to come to an end, Jesus established the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and then filled it with power. He did it by offering his body into death, pouring out his blood as the sacrifice that gives life to the world, and by rising again victorious over the grave. In the same way the church, after gladly hearing and learning God's word, after repenting and devoting herself anew to her God, celebrates the blessed sacrament with joy. It is our connection to the Lord's death and resurrection and to all the benefits that he obtained for us there. In holy communion the Good Shepherd prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies and anoints our head with the oil of gladness that no sin, death or devil can ever take from us. No wonder, like the people in the parable, we too celebrate with joy.
The older son in the parable represents Israel. The Jews of our Lord's day, and those of the earliest church, were of the firm opinion that God loved only Israel, and that the Christ came for them alone. Instead of accepting God's mercy and gladly extending it to others they became exclusive. They felt themselves superior to other people, they looked down on them and resented them. The Jewish/Gentile controversy is long over, but the church is the New Israel. Are we exclusive? Do we look down on others? Do we consider ourselves better, holier or dearer to God than those who are outside the church; those into whose heart the word repentance never enters? Do we consider certain groups of people as beyond the love of God or the hope of salvation? Or...do we single out individuals who have wronged us as too despicable and too depraved ever to love God or to be loved by Him? It is not hard to do, but this parable teaches us better. It instructs us not to have an elite attitude, but to pray for all people, even our enemies; and to rejoice with the angels of heaven when any sinner turns from his mis-spent life, and is baptized.
We also bear resemblance to the younger son in the parable. Before baptism we are born with all the guilt of our parents' sins weighing heavy upon us. Even if we are unable to do much harm because of our tender age, the seeds of evil are firmly in place; and minus baptism, minus the Holy Spirit and the teaching of God's Word, we too would waste our lives away like the prodigal son, alienated from God and greedy to practice every kind of impurity, but we have not so learned Christ! For anyone who is in Christ is a New Creation. Yet sad to say the Old Adam still exerts a mighty influence over us. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and it causes us all types of trouble. We can cry about it if we like, we can lament and sink in the soup of self-pity, or of self-recrimination, but that is not the best course! Instead we should come to our senses like the prodigal and return to our Father's house, where we will not be treated as we deserve, but as the sons that we are, and where we will find grace to help in time of need.
Let us remember again today that the scriptures are not about us, but about Jesus. He is the fatted calf, fattened up with our sins, and sacrificed for the life of the world. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. He is the son who was handed over to death by the Father for our trespasses, and raised again by the same Father for our justification. This makes us Teflon so that no sin, no stain, no guilt or condemnation of sin can stick to us, but because the Old Man is such a mountebank, let us be quick to add that this glorious blessing is *not* a license to sin, let down our guard, or to abuse the grace of God. Instead let us be energized by it, learn to be grateful and to express our love for all people. How can we who have died to sin do any differently?
The parable is about Jesus. He is the son who was dead, but now is alive and who shares His indestructible life with us. He is the one who was lost in death for three days, but was found on Easter, and is found today in the church, the Word and the sacraments. Don't try to know Jesus in any other way. Don't try to find rest for your souls in a private religion apart from all the people of God who gather in His house on His day. The Christian faith is not a mental exercise that can be practiced in isolation, devoid of its rites and rituals, its ceremonies and its celebration of the Eucharist. Instead, return to your Father's house, who gave the fatted calf for your sins, and with whom you, too, will rise from the dust of death. Eat, drink deeply from the wells of salvation and celebrate with joy. Amen
Rev. Dean Kavouras