Lent with Bonhoeffer, Sunday, March 10, 2013 -The Prodigal Brother-
Gospel reading from The Revised Common Lectionary week Lent 4C
Luke 15:1-3; 11-32 (ESV)
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Usually, when people talk about Luke 15, they talk about the Prodigal Son. The relate the love of the father for the one who has gone astray and returns to the fold (this common phrase even alludes to the lost sheep parable). But, what about the Other Brother? In the whole of chapter 15, the author of Luke recounts the parables of Jesus concerning Lost Things. Even though the elder son, was never lost in the world like the little lamb in verses 4 through 7, he still truly wasn’t going about his Father’s business (Luke 2:49). He was going through the motions of tending to the fields and breaking bread in the Father’s house all of those years, but he wasn’t learning from the Father. But, the Father being compassionate, takes time to explain that the older son’s perception is skewed. The Father isn’t rewarding the squandering of the Prodigal Son’s share, the Father is celebrating a new life. The banquet is a celebration of a new life, like the feast following the birth and circumcision of a son in the Jewish culture. The Father reminds the eldest son, “just because there is a new life here, I don’t Love you less, all I have is yours.” If we are going about our Father’s business, we should be celebrating Lost Sheep being found. We shouldn’t begrudge other’s rewards. To paraphrase the Litany of Humility- “Jesus, meek and humble, deliver me from the desire to be honored and grant me the grace to desire that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.”
Bonhoeffer on The Ministry of Proclaiming
What we are concerned with here is the free communication of the Word from person to person. We are thinking of that unique situation in which one person shares in simple words to another person, and if it is not accompanied by good listening, how can it be a convincing and sincere word?
If it comes, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and the desire to force its acceptance, how can it be the liberating and healing word?
*Moreover, the person who has really listened and served and borne with others is the very one who is likely to say nothing. A profound distrust of everything that is merely verbal often causes a personal word to a brother to be suppressed. What can weak human words accomplish for others? Why add to the empty talk? Are we, like the professionally pious, to “talk away” the other person’s real need? Is there anything more perilous than speaking God’s Word to excess? But, on the other hand, who wants to be accountable for having been silent when he should have spoken?
Where Christians live together the time must inevitably come when in some crisis one person will have to declare God’s Word and will to another.
***It is inconceivable that the things that are of utmost importance to each individual should not be spoken by one to another.
*It is unchristian consciously to deprive another of the one decisive service we can render to him. If we cannot bring ourselves to utter it, we shall have to ask ourselves whether we are not still seeing our brother garbed in his human dignity which we are afraid to touch, and thus forgetting the most important thing, that he, too, no matter how old or highly placed or distinguished he may be, is still a man like us, a sinner in crying need of God’s grace. He has the same great necessities that we have, and needs help, encouragement, and forgiveness as we do.
***The basis upon which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help. We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. Why should we be afraid of one another, since both of us have only God to fear? Correcting one another is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin.
***Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that allows another to stay in his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.
*It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and succouring.
Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgement is helpful and healing. Ultimately, we have no charge but to serve our brother, never to set ourselves abLiove him, and we serve him even when we must speak the judging and dividing Word of God to him, even when, in obedience to God, we must break off fellowship with him. We must know that it is not our human love which makes us loyal to the other person, but God’s love which breaks its way through to him only through judgement. Just because God’s Word judges, it serves the person. He who accepts the ministry of God’s judgement is helped.
***Our brother’s ways are not in our hands; we cannot hold together what is breaking; we cannot keep life in what is determined to die. But God binds elements together in the breaking, creates community in the separation, grants grace through judgement. He has put His Word in our mouth. He wants it to be spoken through us. If we hinder His Word, the blood of the sinning brother will be upon us. If we carry out His Word, God will save our brother through us. “He which turns the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Litany of Humility
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.