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Party Time: Prodigal God (5)

. 5 min read

04/06/2014, Holy Communion
Luke
15.1-32
Review:
      1.   Lost and Found
      2.   Lost
Boys
      3.   Big
Brother
      4.   The
True Elder Brother
      5.   Party
Time
Potpourri
of resources . . . around the party theme: The PARTY as
      sign and instrument of RECONCILIATION
      celebration of the SAVIOR
      embodiment of the NEW COMMUNITY
Kenneth
E. Bailey, the perspective of a New Testament scholar who lived and taught in
the Middle East for almost 50 years.
“qetsatsah”
ceremony, exercised by the entire community
      for those who lose the family inheritance
to Gentiles
      fill an urn with burnt corn & burnt
nuts
      break it in front of the offender and
shout:
            “JP is cut off from his people”
younger
brother, intending to earn his way back
      not fully appreciating the damage done
      with no confidence that he can avoid being
shunned
      “I have sinned against heaven and against
you”
            words of manipulation by the Pharoah
to Moses (Ex 10.16, Bailey)
father,
planning ahead, “seeks” him, finding him at the edge of town
      runs to him (what a mother would do,
Bailey)
      welcomes publically
      no way the community can shun him when the
father accepts him
            (Bailey)
      the PARTY is the sign and instrument of
RECONCILIATION
      exactly what Jesus is doing w/ tax
collectors and sinners
      father in story has become the Jesus
figure, the savior figure
            in absence of the “true elder
brother” the parable longs for

older
brother throws a fit … like son vs father shouting match at a big family
wedding, in public view of the entire community (Bailey)
fit
over definition of the feast (Bailey)
      father: this son was lost and is FOUND –
celebration of FINDING
      older son: fattened calf for HIM –
celebration of the SINNER
            I deserved it, never got it
            same logic as the younger son, who
wanted to pay back:
                  earn what you get
We
might say, it’s better to be a younger brother, better a rule breaker, because
we think the party is thrown for him
      it’s not – the party is thrown by the
father in celebration of what the father has accomplished in reconciling his
son
      it’s not a banquet for the “comeback
player of the year”.  “It is not our
remorse [or the younger brother’s remorse] that forces God to set the banquet
table . . . We cannot throw our own party” (Thomas Long).
this
feast is not a celebration of sinners, or of our righteousness
      “not worthy to gather up the crumbs under
this thy table”
            (old communion liturgy)
this
feast – the PARTY – is a celebration of the SAVIOR
The
father: “My son was dead and is now alive … we had to celebrate!”
So
if I were putting together a sinners’ table . . . , it might include an
abortion doctor, a child molester, an arms dealer, a garbage collector, a young
man with AIDS, a Laotian chicken plucker, a teenage crack addict, and an
unmarried woman on welfare with five children by three different fathers.  Did I miss anyone?  Don’t forget to put Jesus at the head of the
table, asking the young man to hand him a roll, please, and offering the doctor
a second cup of coffee before she goes back to work.
      If that offends you even a little, then
you are almost ready for what happens next. 
Because what happens next is that the local ministerial association
comes into the restaurant and sits down at a large table across from the
sinners.  The religious authorities all
have good teeth and there is no dirt under their fingernails.  When their food comes, they hold hands to
pray.  They are all perfectly nice
people, but they can hardly eat their hamburger steaks for staring at the
strange crowd in the far booth.
      The chicken plucker is still wearing her
white hair net, and the garbage collector smells like spoiled meat.  The addict cannot seem to find his mouth with
his spoon.  But none of those is the
heartbreaker.  The heartbreaker is Jesus,
sitting there as if everything were just fine.
      (Barbara Brown Taylor)
This
setting, imagined by Barbara Brown Taylor, pulls us out of the specific
dynamics of the parable and connects us with the context: Jesus is welcoming
and eating with tax collectors and sinners. 
The religious folks are offended: How can he be holy and keep company
with sin?
      The one exception to this holiness versus
contamination perspective on the world would be someone who was so holy that
they could not be contaminated by anyone. 
But who could that be?  And if
someone was truly that holy, why would they want to hang with sinners?
      We know that supremely holy person was
Jesus indeed, and that he did choose to eat with sinners and tax
collectors.  On the cross, he cries out,
“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 
He was rejected so that we could be accepted.  He was forsaken so that we could be
welcomed.  He was abandoned so that we
could be rescued.
      So, this PARTY is the embodiment of a
NEW COMMUNITY
, a community of everyone who says “yes” to God’s invitation,
a community that is not defined by our need to divide and define, in or out, us
or them.  [MLK’s dream]  It is a community that anticipates and
experiences the reality that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28).
And
the most reckless one in the story, the most extravagant in generosity, is the
father.  So too, Jesus has given himself
away, emptied himself, become nothing, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
This
party is the sign and instrument of Reconciliation. 
This
party celebrates our Savior. 
This
party is the embodiment of New Community.
Resources:
Kenneth
E. Bailey, “The Pursuing Father”, Christianity Today, Oct 26 1998, pp
34-40.
Thomas
Long, “Living by the Word: Surprise Party”, Christian Century, Mar 14
2001, p 10,

Barbara
Brown Taylor, “Living by the Word: Table Manners”, Christian Century,
Mar 11 1998, p 257.