By Joseph Robb
Door mats have become a product for sale. My wife, Deb tries out different ones for different occasions:
She has one at the back door which reads: “A Golfer and a Sane Person live here.”
Another one that says: “Wipe feet here please” – that’s at the door as you come in from the garage.
Then she has all kinds of colorful designs: From “Sunbursts” to “autumn colors” to “The Rainbow spread” to Santa Claus”, and so on.
I’m sure you decorate your entrances with door mats also?!
What a door mat does is say something to someone coming to visit about you and those who live in the house.
Having read our Gospel lesson today about the “Prodigal Son”, what do you think the door mat would say in the father’s home?
• If … it was saying something about the “father?”
• Or, if … it was saying something about the “elder son?”
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Before we get into what these door mats might say … let’s look at the circumstances under which Jesus told this story.
You may have noted that the reading begins “apart from” the actual story of the Prodigal Son.
That’s to set the stage for the story!
What was happening that encouraged Jesus to come up with this magnificent story that we have grown to love so much?
WELL “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus.”
And the scribes and Pharisees were grumbling about how “Un-Jewish” that was … that Jesus “welcomed them” and “ate with them.”
To the Scribes and Pharisees, there wouldn’t have been much difference between a tax collector and any other “sinner” … except maybe that they had a title and the others didn’t.
Tax collectors were cheaters, and cheated even “their own people” … the Jews. They became rich from the “extra” taxes they collected … and were hated by most Jews.
So, the story finds Jesus among some pretty “unlikely acquaintances” … and enjoying their company. He seemed to relish being with them.
I suppose they were a lot more entertaining and fun than those prudish old Scribes and Pharisees.
But, it wasn’t the fun or entertainment that drew Jesus to them.
It was his love for them. Love as of the Father … his Father who was in heaven.
The Scribes and Pharisees had no love for tax collectors and sinners. They lived by the motto that “One rotten apple in the barrel can spoil the whole barrel.”
Jesus lived by the motto that “everyone was a child of God, and therefore, worthy of God’s love.
And, we remember in John that Jesus speaks of him and the Father as being one with one another. And that he said: “as the Father has loved me, so I love you.”
This was something hateful to the Scribes and Pharisees: they only loved those worthy of their love … those who followed the rules they followed and believed the teachings they taught.
This group Jesus was mixing with was “RENEGADES.” They were scoundrels and misfits.
He had no business mixing with them!!!
This is the setting in which the story of the Prodigal Son takes place.
• People who are squandering their lives in frivolity and dissolute living.
• Jesus welcoming them with wide open arms.
• And, the Scribes and Pharisees griping and moaning that this was an overt act that “snubbed” them.
In this context, the story says something interesting about the religious leaders of the Jewish people.
It also tells to whom Jesus was sent and how unpopular that was among those who expected him to have been sent to them … “if” … it were true that he was who he said he was.
It’s clear that the youngest son who goes off and squanders everything given him by his father, and defaced the family name in the process IS the one, in the story that represents the tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus plays the part of the father in the story.
And, by now, you can tell that the Scribes and Pharisees are the elder son.
We can see how the father and elder son interacted with one another, and how each felt about and thus related to the younger son.
In this story, Jesus raises a question for all who hear: You have the Scribes and Pharisees on the one hand; and Jesus on the other.
“Which one represents God’s calling of His people Israel?”• Is it the Scribes and Pharisees who nibble away at the unworthy and unfit of society?
• Or, is it Jesus who lovingly welcomes them with open arms.
What is God’s goal in sending Jesus?
One theologian put it this way: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”
Is that God’s mission for his Church?
How are we doing?
What does our door mat say about us and our mission?
• Does it proclaim a warm welcome?
• Or, does it state that you’re welcome …”if” … you meet our standards?
Jesus was about God’s mission.
Copyright 2013, Joseph Robb. Used by permission.