᛭ INI ᛭
(Oops!: 5. The father and son were dead.)
He was dead at the beginning. He had to be, and He wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s what was asked of Him—demanded, even! But He was dead from the start, and it carried all the way through to the end of the parable. From Beginning to End, Alpha to Omega, He was the One, the Father, who died for the sake of His sons.
He really was dead—legally so. What else would you expect from a father’s unconditional love? Sure, it’s bad form—to say the least—to ask for a person’s will to be executed for your benefit before that person’s, you know, actually dead. How much worse for a son to treat his father that way! “For my life, it’s better if you’re dead, dad.”
The Father does it! He gives in, willingly so, to His son’s heartless demand. The son doesn’t realize that he’s also dead. Sure, he lived it up, but “the self-indulgent is dead even while he lives.” (1 Tim 5) He was dead in trespasses and sins, and “he spent his existence (ἡ οὐσία) by living wastefully.”
Face to face with pigs, unable to eat their pods, he wasn’t yet brought to understand his true place. He was still bargaining and figuring. “Sure, I’ve lost my place as son, but I can still be a day laborer.” Confronted with his Father’s unconditional mercy, however, held in his dead father’s embrace, he finally is brought to see that he’s dead and has been all along: “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (He died not only to his sin, but to his bargaining, rehabilitating his own status before his father.)
(4. Ugh!: We’re also dead in ourselves.)
“Repentance isn’t the admission of guilt or recognition of fault but the confession of death.” That’s what confession of sin is really all about. It’s a confession of death. Sin is bing dead while so-called living, and that’s why “the wages of sin is death.”
“Confession is not a medicine leading to recovery. If we could recover—if we could say that beginning tomorrow or the week after next we would be well again—why then, all we would need to do would be apologize, not confess. We could simply say that we were sorry for the recent unpleasantness, but that, thank God and the [strength] of our better [intentions], it is all over now…
“But we never recover. We die. And if we live again, it is not because the old parts of our life are jiggled back into line.” “No [more] hired-hand nonsense at all.” “We live again…because, without waiting for realignment, some wholly other life takes up residence in our death. Grace does not do things tit-for-tat; it acts finally and fully from the start.” (Capon, 296)
Not only that our confession follows the mercy of God, just as the son’s true confession comes after his father ran to him, gave him a bear hug, and kissed him. “Confession is not transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness; it is the after-the-last gasp of a corpse that finally can afford to admit it’s dead and [receive] resurrection.” (Capon, 297)
The older brother was on the wrong side of that, as were the scribes and pharisees. They all thought that the sinners, the younger brother, that person—you know exactly who they are in your life—they need fix their behavior, to rehabilitate their life. As if the church exists for the well-behaved, those who’ve amended their lives, those who’ve had a real spiritual experience, like that of the younger son.
Whatever stipulation you place on it—doesn’t matter. It’s just walls and barbed wire to force behavior modification, to enforce doing more to make up for your sins. To condemn sinners to a life of, “You better show it.” Just more “hired hand” shenanigans. “All these years I’ve served you and never forsook your commandment.” A confession of “I’ve been a pretty good boy. I’ll be even better, certainly better than that sinner over there.” That’s not a confession of death, but a false confession of life. “He refuses to be dead.”
(3. Aha!: THE CHURCH ISN’T A PENITENTIARY OF THE REHABILITATED BUT THE FRATERNITY OF THE FORGIVEN.)
In Jesus’ parable “the father puts no steps between forgiveness and celebration.” (Capon, 298) Jesus does the same! It’s why the scribes and pharisees were grumbling, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Forgiveness and celebration can’t be separated. “There is none of that, ‘Well, you’re forgiven; but let’s have some good behavior now to make the deal stick’—none of that ungracious talk by which we make the house of forgiveness into a penitentiary.” (Capon, 298)
THE CHURCH ISN’T A PENITENTIARY OF THE REHABILITATED BUT THE FRATERNITY OF THE FORGIVEN.
As we confess: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
(2. Whee!: That’s why Jesus does what He does!)
THE CHURCH ISN’T A PENITENTIARY OF THE REHABILITATED BUT THE FRATERNITY OF THE FORGIVEN,
and that’s why Jesus does what He does!
That’s why Jesus is all about sinners—to save them. That’s what the Pharisees and Scribes are grumbling about. “This man receives sinners and eats with them!” “Doesn’t He know who they are? What they’ve done? He should make them clean up their act. Any self-respecting Rabbi would do that! Who does this guy think He is? What’s He playing at?!” Pharisees and Scribes in a self-made prison, penitentiary of “Now that you’re in, do more better.”
But they’re really upset, not because Jesus “receives sinners,” like they have to get to Him before He gives them the time of day. No, Jesus is acting just like the Shepherd, the Woman, the Father in His parables. Jesus isn’t waiting for anything to save sinners. He doesn’t wait for any positive action on the part of sinners. That’s what gets people so upset at Jesus.
So, how does Jesus “receive sinners?” Well, “He goes after them.” “He searches for them diligently.” “He’s runs to them, hugs them,” “eats with them.” He even does this in the presence of the Pharisees, just like the father in the parable with the older brother: “His Father went out and entreated him.”
Jesus does all that He can—He does everything to save sinners. He bears their sins—your sins—in His own body on the tree. He suffers, bleeds, dies in your place. He rises from the dead. He chases after them, bears them on His shoulders. He sends preachers to preach the Good News of forgiveness in His name. He puts baptismal fonts in all the right places so that you were baptized. He did all this without you asking Him. He did all this so that He could save you.
He is like the fattened calf in that way. The fattened calf was just waiting around to die so that its life could be given for the sake of a party. That exemplifies Jesus. “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” John the Evangelist says. Jesus stood by, showed up at the right time as a willing sacrifice, so there could be a party. A party to which only sinners are invited. A party for which sinners are baptized to wash away an entire life-time of sins. The house isn’t a penitentiary of the somber self-righteous. It’s a fraternity of the forgiven, and if it’s a fraternity, a frat house of forgiveness, well, that means there’s a party!
(1. Yeah!: That’s why there’s a feast now and a feast forever.)
There is! It’s a never ending banquet! But the fraternity of forgiveness is different than the world would have it. The world thinks of such things, and our flesh does, too, only in terms of sinning. But the Lord brings sinners from death to life. (Sin is death not freedom or “living.”) An as-good-as-dead sheep brought back on the Shepherd’s shoulders. A lifeless coin swept up by the woman. A corpse of a son returning home hugged and kissed by His Father. A son lost in self-righteousness sought out by His Father.
The party was, of course, free. Free for those invited, but nothing is free, of course. Christ gladly pays. Paid “not with gold or silver, but by the precious blood of Christ.”
The Father in the Parable doesn’t wait for the son or servants to agree. He just throws His “welcome-home-forever” bash! So also the Shepherd and the Woman: “Come rejoice with me!” The self-righteous won’t come because they don’t want to. They don’t want to be caught dead with sinners, with those who up to that point wasted their existence, wasted the life given them by their heavenly Father, who just welcomes them back with a party. “It is God’s mercy that brings us to repentance.”
The Supper of Jesus’ body and blood is part and parcel with His everlasting banquet. Here sinners eat and drink of Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. It is the meal for sinners, after all. So you always—every week—have sins that need the Supper. To say you can forego the Sacrament for some lack of sin or just “not so bad sins.” That’s just younger son “hired hand” or older son self-righteous nonsense. In both cases you’re lying about your sins, to yourself and to God.
But Jesus, eternal Son of the Father, has instituted the Supper to take care of your sins so you can stop bargaining, sweeping them under the rug, or ignoring them. “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” His body and blood for you.