Theology from a Pig Sty
Luke 15:1–3a, 11–32
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Professors sit in ivory towers, poets dream in fields of flowers but both ponder the meaning of life. When we think of theology we don’t associate it with those in pigsties but those who work in seminaries and schools of higher education? Men who have earned the right to wear the robes of their office? But the reality is that some of the most important theology doesn’t come from the halls of religious institutions but from the school of life.
Our lesson starts with the Pharisees, well educated religious leaders. They were angry and bringing charges against Jesus: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” By the way, that ought to be the best news we could ever hear. Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. There’s room for us sinners too! It should be great news for the Pharisees as well, if not for their pride and self-righteousness that keeps them from partaking. They couldn’t see themselves as sinners, and definitely weren’t going to admit they couldn’t save themselves.
II. The Parables
Jesus chooses to use the school of life to educate these men, who considered themselves to be great theologians. Jesus tells them a parable; actually He told them three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son.
The parables of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin set the stage and pattern for Parable of the Prodigal Son. A sheep is lost, and a shepherd hastily leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to seek and save the one that is lost. Not the way you or I would manage a flock is it? Desert 99, in search for 1, but then, we’re not the good shepherd. When the wayward sheep is found and returned to the flock, there is rejoicing and a party. Very likely another sheep was barbequed for that event. Do the math.
A coin is lost, and a woman turns her house upside down looking for that lost coin, which is probably worth about an hour’s wage. And when she finds her lost coin, there’s rejoicing and a party, which probably cost more than the coin she found. Do the math.
Did you see a pattern: lost, sought, found, and then rejoicing! Jesus says, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous who do not need repentance,” as if there is any such a thing. Lost, sought, found, and rejoicing. Now you’re ready for the main event: the parable of the man with two sons.
III. THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
A man had two sons. The older son stood to inherit the land, the younger son stood to inherit enough money to buy some land of his own. That’s how it worked in those days. The younger son didn’t want wait for his father to die so he demanded his inheritance ahead of time. It was as if the child was saying, “I want you dead”. Even so the father agreed. He divided his property between the two - the older son got the land, the younger son got the money.
The typical thing happened to the young man, he wasted it. The text says he squandered it with reckless living. It might have been invested poorly, but who knows? But then a famine hit the land, which wasn’t his fault. His brother claims his money was spent on prostitutes. Regardless, the kid winds up feeding hogs on a Gentile pig farm, that’s about as low as it gets for a good Jewish boy. About the time pig food begins to look yummy, he came to his senses. Sometimes we need to spend a little time in the pig sty in order to come to our senses and to get our theology straight.
The young man has a plan - confess his sin to his father. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That’s a good confession. Tells it like it is. Sin is not just against others, but against God. Then he has a deal to strike: “Make me one of your hired hands.” And off he goes, confession in hand and a deal to get back into his father’s presence.
As he comes over the crest of the last hill, while he is still just a dot on the horizon, his father comes running down the road to meet him. By the way, this is never done in a Middle Eastern society. Wayward sons walk every inch, and they have to crawl in humility the last few. But this father, in full view of the neighbors and the whole community, runs out to meet the son, the one that had wanted him dead. And if that wasn’t outrageous enough, he embraces and kisses the boy, who still reeks of pigs, even before he gets a word of confession out of his mouth.
Before we move on what does this mean, as Luther puts it.
We make our confession with the knowledge of our Father’s forgiveness. That’s what the Bible calls “grace.” Grace the unmerited and undeserved kindness, the very love and mercy of God given for Jesus’ sake. When you confess your sins, when you admit that you are a poor miserable sinner, when you acknowledge what you’ve done, and the poisoned creature that you are, you are doing it in the embrace of a Father who has already run down the road to meet you with open arms. You confess within the embrace of God’s acceptance in Jesus. Got it? Let’s get back to the parable.
While the father is embracing and kissing his lost and but now found son, the boy starts his little speech. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The father is barely listening. He’s ordering servants to bring the robe and the ring and sandals. He’s calling the caterers and getting ready to party, “for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and now is found.” Let the party begin.
There’s something important that applies to us especially men, so please listen.
Gospel dads don’t necessarily go running off to pull their wayward sons out of the Gentiles’ mud. (Mothers are more likely to do that.) Gospel dads are patient and long suffering. And Gospel dads always welcome their children home with open arms. Notice that the son never got to his little deal about being one of his father’s hired hands. And even if he did, the father wasn’t listening. Robe, ring, and sandals belong to sons not servants. There’s no bargaining with God’s grace in Jesus. No deals to cut. There’s only the Father’s outrageous acceptance of a son who smells like pigs and want him dead. That’s the undeserved kindness of God toward sinners for Jesus’ sake. No deals, but then none are needed.
We see the pattern again, sort of. A son is lost, a son returns in repentance, rejoicing and a party. Unlike the sheep and the coin, no one went searching for him, but we’ll get to that in a second. There’s still another son to deal with.
He’s the older son, the firstborn son, who behaves like most first born sons. He’s the rule keeper and the book keeper, the religious one. He’s just inherited the family farm, but he’s hopping mad at his father. “All these years I’ve served you, worked like a dog, obeyed your every commands, yet you never gave me so much as a goat much less a fattened calf. And then this deadbeat son of yours comes home after chewing up your money on prostitutes and you roll out the red carpet.” It’s just not fair!
We hear the father’s heart pouring out to his other son, whom he also loves: “'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was once dead, but now is alive; he was lost, but now is found.'" So please don’t disown your brother now.
Imagine being off in a field working, the music floating through the field, the smell of BBQ wafting in the air, and a big question mark hangs over the whole scene. Will the older brother join the party? Will he get the joke? Will he embrace the outrageous grace of a father who will forgive his sons anything? Will he embrace his brother?
Will we? Will we rejoice in the notion that Jesus receives actual sinners and actually eats with them? Or will we get outraged at grace. Grace that’s earned isn’t grace by the way. If God is undeservedly kind and forgiving to us for Jesus’ sake, if He embraces us reeking from the pigsties of our lives, then He must embrace all the same way, or it’s not grace. And yes, the gift of grace is refuseable, just as all gifts are. The older son doesn’t have to go to the party; there’s no loaded gun pointed at his head. He can stay in his own self-chosen religion of law, if he so chooses. In the end it will only condemn him to hell. But his rightful place, and the will of his father, is that he be with his brother at the party.
You and I are that lost son in the pig sty. And the Father embraces us as we are, reeking, rebellious and lost. He puts Jesus’ robe of righteousness on us, covering our sin with blood of the lamb, Jesus’ perfection. He slips the son’s signet ring on our finger, marking us as family. He embraces us in a love that doesn’t ask for deals or bargains. This is undeserved, unmerited, unconditional, amazingly outrageous grace. This stands in stark contrast to a world of watered-down religion, where sin really isn’t all that bad nor is God’s grace all that great!
The shepherd sought out the lost sheep; the woman searched for the lost coin. No one sought the lost son, though the father obviously was looking down the road every day. Some suggest his older brother should have gone, but I think Jesus breaks the pattern to leave room for Himself. He is the older brother of us all, the first-born of all creation, who sought and saved us from the pig sty even before we got the bright idea to make a confession and try to cut a religious deal. He joined us in the slop of our sin; He became our sin. He died our death, and rose from the dead. He became lost so that we might be found in Him. And the Father had to celebrate, because His Son was dead and is now alive again. And the same Father rejoices and celebrates over you in Jesus, because in Him you die and live again too, you were lost in sin but now you are found in Jesus.
So the theology from a pig sty is this, you were covered in the filth of sin but now have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. You were blind but now you see. You were lost but now you are found. And because of that, there has to be rejoicing and a party.
And there is, right here and right now in your midst. The table is set before you and the Lord says, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you.” This man, this Son of God named Jesus, receives sinners and eats with them. It’s Outrageous Grace, grace that gives life eternal. Taste and see, that the Lord is good. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. AMEN