‘NOT Fair!!!’ Rev. Jane Courtright
I have had a lot of children in my life, besides my own 2 sons,
so I can tell you, kids spend a lot of time & energy
arguing what’s fair & what’s NOT.
Did you ever try to serve 2 scoops of ice cream on a cone
That were exactly the same size?
“She got more than I did! NO FAIR!”
Why does he get to stay up later than me? NO FAIR!”
“How come SHE gets to sit in the front seat? NO FAIR!”
2 little girls who lived with me at one time said
that the fair way was to let one of them sit up front
on the odd days of the month & the other on the even days.
That WOULD be fair, they decided.
Except that we didn’t go somewhere in the car EVERY day,
So 1 of them MIGHT get more times in the front than the other!
Also, some months have more odd days than even days!
I began to feel that in order to be a good parent,
I might have to go through law school!
You need the wisdom of a Solomon
& the memory of an elephant.
So, I finally told my son Phil when he was a teenager
(And I was a single Mom,)
That if I felt 85% sure of a decision, I was gonna go with it!
If you think that we finally outgrow this obsession with fairness,
It’s as old as the Garden of Eden &
deeply imbedded in our chromosomes.
Back when we shopped more in person on Black Friday,
I heard about adult who argued (even fought) over items!
I have been with families at funeral planning appts.,
where grown ups are nasty about what they should get
from the house or in the will. NO FAIR!
We might say to ourselves, “I’d never be like that.”
Well, I’ll admit that once when I was stuck in traffic,
& a car tried to sneak ahead using the shoulder of the road,
I moved over to block it.
He wasn’t getting ahead of me – IT WASN’T FAIR!
I looked up the word ‘prodigal’
in my good ‘ol Funk & Wagnell’s Dictionary.
It’s an adjective that means “recklessly wasteful.”
My high school Latin also tells me that ‘prodigal’
comes from the Latin word ‘prodigere,’
which is a verb meaning to ‘sqaunder.’
So, a prodigal would literally be a wasteful child
Who throws away opportunities recklessly & wastefully.
And the younger son in our gospel parable is a waster.
He is one of the most infamous characters in the Bible.
It’s like a soap opera!
He had a case of the ‘GIMMEES!
“Gimmee my share of the property.”
Then, we’re told that he takes his money & blows it…
in …..dissolute living. Dissolute living?
The parable doesn’t tell us any of the supposedly
juicy details about this kind of living…..
However, our imaginations have no trouble
filling in the details about this young man
with a pocketful of inheritance $$$ to blow!
Oh, yes, we know this story.
We know all about this scoundrel, this waster.
What we don’t know, as I’ve said,
our imaginations can provide.
And we know all about the father, too,
who takes back this scoundrel of a son
even before his confession is completely confessed!
This father, who runs across the field & smothers his son
with kisses, a robe, a ring & a HUGE party.
You might call the father a waster, too.
Who else would spend money so foolishly?
Especially on someone who doesn’t deserve it?
What would you call him? – A BIG waster!
Now, you might have sown some wild oats
of your own in the past,
and are grateful you were forgiven.
However, most people probably identify
with the older brother in the story.
Jesus wants us to see the younger brother’s behavior
as foolish, selfish.
But, let’s slip into this older brother’s shoes for a second
and see if we don’t sympathize with him.
What’s the older brother been doing
as the sun sets in this story?
Well, working his ‘you know what’ off all day.
All month, really, because he’s been doing his own work,
plus his younger brother’s work for a long time now.
He’s tired, maybe smells of cow manure…..
After a hard day’s work,
what he could really use is a shower!
And then he hears something:
MUSIC & DANCING. PARTYING?!
Bewilderment isn’t exactly the right word
to describe this older brother’s reaction!
He knows his father doesn’t throw parties during the week.
& then he hears the news – It’s almost too much to take in!
A ROBE, A RING, A FATTED CALF?
A huge welcome for someone who’s been a royal jerk?
So, be honest. If you had been in the older brother’s shoes,
working double shifts while your brother lived it up,
would you have joined in the celebration?
His brother deserved a yelling at!
to make up for all the heart-ache he caused.
A LONG period of punishment?!
But, a party?!
There’s something primitive & basic here
that sets on fire our sense of moral outrage.
There are plenty of ways
To approach this familiar story theologically.
I have preached on some of them in the past.
However, the most basic point of this parable is this:
GOD ISN’T FAIR. Sorry.
God doesn’t play by our rules,
see life the way we mostly see it,
or keep score the way we tend to.
GOD ISN’T FAIR.
And we’re not exactly tickled pink about that. WHY?
Because it is the sense of fairness in our chromosomes
that determines most of our moral or ethics.
BUT GOD ISN’T FAIR.
And not only that: God seems to really like sinners.
God even throws a party of rich food & drinks
to get their attention.
God invites the undeserving. Dances with scoundrels.
Puts a ring on their finger!
So, let’s go back outside with that older brother,
still needing a shower,
arms folded tightly across his chest.
“So, this son of yours came back….
You killed the fatted calf for him.”
Notice: He can’t even call him his brother…
He says, “this son of yours.”
It’s a bit when my son Joe is not behaving well,
And I will say to my other son Phil,
“He’s YOUR brother!”
Except that I say that with a sense of humor.
A sense of unfairness such as the older son had
in this parable can turn nasty fast!
So, where are we at the end of this parable?
Are we inside the party celebrating?
Or are we still outside with OUR arms folded,
refusing to come in?
Jesus doesn’t tell us how it all ends.
We hear the father passionately inviting his older son in,
He pleads with him to join in the welcome home party.
We are never told what the older brother decides to do.
So, will we RSVP ‘YES’ to a party thrown by an unfair God?
Or will we be stubborn and stay inside?
Because in a world where God doesn’t play fair
according to OUR rules,
we are forced to make a choice.
Who is the real ‘prodigal’ here? Who is the real waster?
From the very beginning,
Jesus says the story is about two brothers.
Which one has yet to come home
to God’s extravagant love?
Sure, we can waste our lives keeping score
and whining ‘NO FAIR!’
We can keep grudges all the way to the grave.
We can ignore what Jesus is all about,
even if we come to church every Sunday.
We can waste our lives waiting for others
to apologize, to act fairly, to earn OUR forgiveness.
Jesus waited on none of these things.
And every Sunday, God throws a party for sinners.
We are all making our way home in some sense.
The sounds of music & dancing calls one and all.
GOD IS HERE.
But again, let me warn you: GOD IS NOT FAIR.
God won’t play favorites either.
What God likes to do is to throw a great party!
The real prodigal, the real waster,
Is the one who stays outside the party.
The one who can not quite forgive his sister or brother,
or perhaps, his or her own self.
NOT FAIR? What a waste. Now, let’s party!