You can go home again!
We’re not close to putting this on film yet but since you have all decided to be part of this little drama I thought it only fitting that we went over the vary characters and their motivations. Some of you will be new to this way of doing things so I’m going to help take you through things with the help of our high-tech storyboard. This new technology makes changes easy and almost painless.
The first group (slides 2-3) is pretty stand out folks. Their dress says they’re middle class or upper-middle class. They have a confidence about the way they stand. They’re erect and have no problem meeting anyone eye-to-eye. They are standing a way off from Jesus and from their body language and the snippets of words we hear it is clear they aren’t his friends.
The second group (slide 4) gathered around Jesus are a rough and tumble group; the kind of people author Tex Sample called “Hard-Living Christians”. They work in warehouses and on dock; they do the dirty jobs in the town. It includes those who live on the edge of what is legal and a few who crossed that edge a long time ago. Women are there and not just the wives and daughters, this is more than just unusual in Jesus’ time it is almost unheard of in good company.
Conflict is central to any good story and it’s these two groups are natural antagonists. The first are Sadducees and Pharisees. Today we’d think of the religious right or the Jesus Seminar intellectual. Like a stereotypical Tele-Evangelist, they who know what God is like; what God has said; and the type of people God accepts and they have no sharing their information and judgment with others.
The second group is collectively known as sinners. Matthew, who is hosting the party, is one of them. He’s a known traitor to Israel because he works for Rome. Others there are like him. Women who have a less than stellar reputation; those who work in leather or otherwise can’t keep the cleanliness law demanded by the Jews. They are those for whom a good Jewish leader would assume have no hope because they simply won’t keep God’s law.
The religious people’s problem with Jesus is that he seems to be leading this group astray by teaching them that God will actually welcome people like them. He even announced in another setting to such a crowd that the “kingdom of God was among them”. That was just too much. God was a God of judgment and purity. He was a God who would destroy evil people like He did with Pharaoh’s troops and those Jews who went into exile for not keeping the law.
So that’s the setting. Now the scene fades and incomes a typical common living area of a first century home (slide 5). The youngest son has told his father he wanted his third of the estate which was his by Law. It wasn’t unheard of for such things to happen but you can sense the reluctance on the part of the father. After all, he knows his children.
(Slide 6) The kid and his newfound wealth make a beeline for a far off country. In Bible terms this could be as close as Samaria or as far off as Rome. The distance isn’t what matters here it is the fact that the kid takes off far from any sense of control, boundaries, or restraint. He does his own thing. (Slide 7) It’s a life of wild parties, spending sprees, odd jobs but mostly entertaining friends. And once there the money runs out so do the friends and soon after the food. At the first-century incarnation of “Day-Labor” he finds himself working just to survive and the irony of ironies is that he ends up feeding pigs, the worse place imaginable for a good Jewish boy to end up (slide 8).
For those of you who are looking at this part, this is where the “ah-ha” moment comes (slide 9). The Bible says, “He came to himself.” It is the existential place where you realize the day laborers at home were eating and living better than he was. This is something we really need to hear. You or this character makes up their mind to return home. They decide that they’ll admit they were wrong (slide 10); and they will even seek to become an employee for their father. In all of this there is NO chance of being reinstated to the family (slide 11). That part of this guy’s life was over and done with. The day laborers were a step below the household slaves in the Middle East but those who decide this is the part they want to play must become willing to put them in this mindset.
(Slide 12) Let’s look back at the street scene where Jesus is busy teaching. As we fade in we can see the group of leaders nodding in agreement with the young man’s decision. Their collective attitude is, “he made his bed now he can lie in it.” The other group is wondering what comes next. Those closer to Jesus are anticipating what will happen to this son when he returns.
(Slide 13)Back on the homestead the father is watching. In the distance he spies a familiar young man. This bedraggled, worn out, broken man makes his way toward the big house and the father races off toward him. Yelling at his servants as he runs a slave comes out and chases after the Dad. As you, the younger son, start your speech (slide 14) your father doesn’t seem to hear. Instead he is busy ordering his slave to bring a robe, ring, and sandals. As he hugs you plans are laid out for a feast. And the shock of shock is that it seems to be in your honor.
Here’s another part that is open for casting. The older brother, the good son, wanders nearby and hears the party. This is the kid who has always done what daddy said. You’re the responsible son. It wasn’t easy picking up the slack for your brother but you did it because you were committed to the family and the job at hand. But now there’s a party going on that you didn’t know anything about so you stop one of the servants and ask him and he tells you about your brother’s return.
You are seething mad. You stalk toward the house and catch one of the slave’s attention and tell them to go get your dad. This kid has been worthless. As you wait for your father you realize that you are angry because you are hurt. You feel your dad is unfair and thinking about all the years you’ve put in only makes it harder to understand.
(Slide 15) Your father comes out with a smile on his face and invites you to come in. He can hardly contain a sense of joy at what has happened and is a little take back when you explode at him for the unfairness of it all. Then your father says something buy you are too angry to hear him. It’s something about you being the sole heir but that his son who was lost is found and that alone is reason to rejoice.
Let’s come back to Jesus and the groups gathered. His lesson isn’t loss on them. The religiously good people find their sense of outrage at Jesus becoming a cold steady hatred as they area compared to the self-righteous prig of an older brother. And the sinners? They are in awe at the possibility that they may still find a God who loves and would welcome them back home again.
You can probably guess the theme of our production is the friendship and restored relationship God offers to everyone. It is based on Jesus and is offered to everyone whether we find ourselves in the pigpens of our degradations or on the homestead of pride and self-righteousness. Wasteful younger children and spiteful older siblings can both hear gracious welcoming words of restoration and invitation. So now that you’ve heard the story and understand a bit more about the play what role have you been playing and what role do you want?