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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“My Stuff”

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

New Revised Standard Version

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable…

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So, he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up 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 like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then 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 slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

A currently running commercial for the travel company Expedia features Ewan McGregor walking through a film set talking about how much we like stuff. “There is a lot of stuff out there” he says as he walks by a sleek new car, a model holding perfume, and an ad being filmed featuring a dog and a horse. McGregor goes on to say that he “doubts any of us will look back on our lives and say, ‘I wish I had bought a thinner TV, a lighter light beer, or a smarter smart phone.’ Do you think any of us will look back on our lives and regret the things we didn’t buy?” Finally, he opens the door of the film set and walks out onto a beach and says, “or the places we didn’t go.”

There is a lot of stuff out there to buy, wish for, or even covet. And the stuff is easier to get than ever by shopping online. Sit at the computer in your pajamas browsing Amazon and with one click you can order whatever you want or strikes your fancy. In a day or two it appears on your doorstep. You don’t even have to get dressed or leave the house!

We tend to be protective of our stuff, sometimes to the extreme. Don’t let anyone touch our favorite doll or stuffed animal or blankie. Be extra careful with our car – park in the back of the parking lot, no eating inside, wash and wax it every week.

At times we can become so focused on the stuff we have or the stuff we want that we lose sight of what is truly important. In a way, this sums up the attitude of the older son, the big brother. His stuff is very important to him. He is also responsible, trustworthy, and does what is right. This son knows his place and what is expected of him as the heir to his father’s estate. He plays the role of the eldest to a T.

His younger brother is the polar opposite. He is carefree, happy go lucky, and sees stuff as only a means to an end. This son wants what he wants when he wants it so he can party, travel, and enjoy himself.

Those who listened to Jesus tell this parable would have been appalled at what they heard. A son asking for his inheritance from his living father? Unheard of! The inheritance was given only after the patriarch of the family died. Essentially, the younger son is telling his father, “I wish you were dead so I can get my stuff now.”

An inheritance in Jesus’ day was the family land. The land was the most important possession a family had. The land was one of the two promises God made to Abraham. The first was that he would have numerous descendants and that his descendants would receive it. After wandering through the desert for 40 years after escaping Egypt, they reached the land promised to Abraham. Upon entering the Promised Land, each tribe was given its own piece of the land. That large piece was apportioned out to the men of the tribe. It was passed down from generation to generation.

The eldest son received the largest portion of the land. Younger sons would have been given a small piece for their own family. That, too, was intended to be passed down to his descendants.

Not only does the younger son in the parable ask for his inheritance, his land, early, but he then sells it, he was, in essence, turning his back on his family. He takes his stuff and leaves with no intention of ever returning.

The traditional understanding of this parable focuses primarily on the younger son. He does the unthinkable, squanders what he received on wild living, and returns home with his tail between his legs hoping he still has some place in his father’s household. Surprisingly, he is welcomed home by his father with open arms and returned to his rightful place in the family. The father is portrayed as the ultimate example of love and grace.

We can easily understand and resonate with the attitude of the older brother. This isn’t fair! The one who is the good son, the one who was aware of the importance of his inheritance, and understood his obligations was dissed. Didn’t his father see that he was the son who saved faithfully, made prudent investments, and never overdrew his bank account or carried a balance on his credit card? He deserved the party, not his younger, no-account brother. He was the son who thought he should be held up to others as an example of the perfect oldest son. Yet no one gave him anything. The oldest misses the point! He spends his time protecting his stuff, doing the right things, and striving for what he thinks he doesn’t have – his father’s love.

A story is told about a man who picks up litter in a park with a spiked pole. He is surrounded by the glorious beauty of flowers and trees. The sun sparkles through the leaves overhead. Yet, he only has eyes for the garbage he has to collect and the damage the people did to the park by throwing it on the ground. He is so focused on what is wrong that he is blind to the beauty that surrounds him. An apt description of the older brother, don’t you think?

The beginning of this passage tells us who was listening to Jesus – tax collectors and sinners. Others in the crowd included Pharisees and the scribes who were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus wasn’t doing the right things, the expected things. From their perspective, he was squandering his inheritance and engaging in wild living with those tax collectors and sinners. They were convinced that Jesus deserved whatever he gets. In fact, they wanted to make sure he got what they thought he deserved.

Judgement is much easier than grace. It is easier to tell someone they are wrong than accept them for who they are with all their faults and mistakes in judgement. When we look at those we judge, we can slip into the pattern of focusing on our stuff or the litter on the ground without even knowing it, missing the beauty of the other person.

The characters in the parable provide three examples of how we can choose to live our lives. The younger son who takes what is his and leaves home without a thought to do whatever he wants, the older son who does the right things but misses the point, and the father.

The father who endures the shame brought on him by his youngest son and the scorn of his oldest and loves both for who they are. The father offers forgiveness and extends grace to each of his sons.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is set in the fictional land of middle earth. The central characters in the novels are the hobbits who are joyful sorts, short in stature, and have hairy feet. They love to celebrate as often as possible. On their birthdays, they throw huge parties for all their family and friends. It doesn’t matter whether it is a milestone birthday – like those we might throw a surprise party for – or a regular birthday. Every party is an enormous celebration to which everyone in the community is invited. Since such a party is thrown for everyone’s birthday, they celebrate often!

Celebration is the key to life with God. Not because life is easy (it’s not), or everything is happy (it’s not). We celebrate because God loves us and others for who we are. God never turns his back on us or anyone no matter what we have done or not done, who we have judged or hurt, when we think we aren’t worthy of love, or even when we spend too much time focusing on our stuff or the litter on the ground.

Whenever we wander away, choose our own path, or even defiantly walk away, God is always searching the road anticipating our return after we have taken our stuff and headed our own way. When we realize that our choices aren’t working out as we expected so we turn around and drag ourselves back to the Father with our heads down, our Heavenly Father runs to us with wide open arms to embrace us and welcome us home in joy.

Every time one of us returns, God throws a party to celebrate that the one who was lost has been found. That can be a lot of parties! And we are invited to all of them.


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