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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon for the third Sunday after Epiphany (Mattins)

Why is Our Lord’s parable called “The Prodigal Son”? Why not “The Abandoned Father”, “the Grudging Brother” or “The Broken Home”?

The way the Lord tells the parable is from the point of view of the son and with obvious intent. Think of what you know about the parable and what you hear in it.

However, we still have to realise that there is a father left at home waiting. We know that he is the one left behind and yet all we see of him is running out to embrace his son and call a great feast. What do we really know of the father’s story?

Perhaps we’ve already been give the father’s side of this parable.


The prophet Hosea is one who shares much with God. Indeed, God has made sure that his life reflects His own relationship with humanity. If you remember, God has told Hosea to marry Gomer. She is a woman whom God knows will be unfaithful to Hosea, and it is precisely for this reason that He gives the prophet this command. Hosea is faithful to God and obeys. The inevitable happens and Hosea faces the breakup of his household as his wife runs off with another man.

Has God been unfair to Hosea?


Many might think of God’s commands as being desperately unfair to the individuals involved. Look at what he commands poor old Ezekiel, lying on one side and making a fire out of… well, what we would now flush away! However, what we see are prophets who are faithful to God and obey His strange commands and so they gain a greater relationship with God Himself.

God speaks to Hosea of Israel’s infidelity. How the Hebrew people whom God had saved from Egypt are falling away and worshipping Baal. God tells Hosea of His fury and that He is not unaffected by Israel’s rejection. And yet, God’s love is very clear.

How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.

He simply cannot give Israel over to destruction. And Hosea knows what that feels because he has gone through the same thing. God’s command to Hosea means that he and God share a profound relationship. Hosea understands how God feels about Israel abandoning Him because he experiences it himself in a way that is deeper than words can ever be.

We don’t really understand how God the Father’s emotions work: He is God and not man. This is why God needs to use His commands to communicate with us, even if they hurt. Of course, in Our Lord Jesus, God is made man in order to provide us with a deeper relationship with God in a way we understand better. Jesus tells us the parable of the Prodigal Son so we can see our own side of things. But Jesus is also drawing us back to understand what Hosea himself knows of infidelity.

What we see is that God loves us deeply and hates all sin. We are unfaithful and, because of our infidelity, we fall into sin and our humanity is fractured and broken. The only way it can be repaired is by returning to a faithful relationship with God.

St Paul reminds us that we are justified by faith and, if we see our relationship with God in the same way as Hosea and Gomer, we understand that our faith is not a passive thing that we possess, but something that we must use. We live by faith by doing faithful things. Our living by faith comes by being obedient to God: we live in relationship with Him as part of His Church.

Our faith is bound up with our obedience to God, and our obedience to God – even in the most painful things – deepens our relationship with Him and we learn to understand what He is like and how He loves us. We understand how our sinfulness tears us away from Him and how it gives Him a reason to abandon us. Yet He does not and keeps calling us back, even as Hosea calls Gomer back. And when we return, then we see the end of the story of the prodigal son. We see God run out to meet us when we reject sin.

God wants us all to be saved from Evil. If we choose Evil, then we abandon Him. If we try to rename Evil as our Good, then we are in danger of never being able to return to Him. The way forward is clear and we can hear God Himself tell us: seek ye FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

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