Jesus has an absolute ‚Äúthing‚ÄĚ about raising the dead. In the Gospels, Jesus never meets a corpse that doesn‚Äôt sit up right on the spot. ‚ÄúI, when I am lifted up, will draw all to me,‚ÄĚ Jesus says (as we heard back in September). That‚Äôs a pretty clear statement in John‚Äôs Gospel, backed up by everything Jesus says and does in the other three Gospels. And so the Church has a pretty clear message to proclaim, if it‚Äôs of a mind to‚ÄĒ and, according to latest polls, the jury‚Äôs still out on that one ‚ÄĒ put simply we have two words for the whole creation, the whole world and every child of earth. Two words; and, just for giggles, I‚Äôll put them crudely. ‚ÄúDrop dead‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúParty on, dudes!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDrop dead‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúParty on, dudes,‚ÄĚ not repentance, remorse ‚ÄĒ and not even return ‚ÄĒ is the point of Jesus‚Äô parable of the prodigals. Fast-forward to the end of the parable. At the end of the parable everyone‚Äôs died ‚ÄĒ the father (the God-figure), the youngest sibling (the ‚Äúus‚ÄĚ-figure), even the fatted calf (the Christ-figure [and we‚Äôll get to that later]) ‚ÄĒ and everyone‚Äôs having a riotously good time at a riotously good party except for one guy and he‚Äôs the only one having a rotten time.
But before I get any more ahead of myself, let‚Äôs get back to Jesus‚Äô story.
‚ÄúDrop dead.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs what the youngest child really says when he asks his father to ‚Äúgive me my share of the property.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúYou see, the only way the youngest is ever going to get his portion of the inheritance is if the estate owner drops dead. That‚Äôs the way inheritance works. Just ask my children. Here‚Äôs the surprise, especially since ‚Äúthe father‚ÄĚ is also ‚Äúthe God-figure.‚ÄĚ Without batting an eye, the father does exactly that. He drops dead, at least legally. Jesus puts it this way, ‚ÄúSo he divided his property between them.‚ÄĚ Do you see it? The Father gives both children, youngest and oldest, everything ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúempties himself,‚ÄĚ is the way Saint Paul will later put it ‚ÄĒ and then, for all intents and purposes, drops dead. The kids get everything. The parent ‚ÄĒ the God-figure in the story ‚ÄĒ has nothing at all.
Once again I remind you: That‚Äôs the God we worship, that‚Äôs the God Jesus points us to: ‚Äď generous to the point of impoverishment, loving to the point of powerlessness, giving to the point of emptiness ‚Äď the exact contrast to
that powerful, punitive God we hear so much about so often, the God we think we want and need.
Back to Jesus‚Äô story. The youngster takes the money and runs. He ‚Äúwastes his substance in riotous living,‚ÄĚ as Jesus euphemistically puts it, which is to say he begins to precipitous die. In fact, one day he wakes up dead or, at least, as good as dead as any self-respecting Jewish boy can be, asleep in pig-sty, owned and operated by a goyim (a Gentile) envying the culinary choices of the pigs. If that isn‚Äôt the definition of dead, it‚Äôs surely the definition of a dead-end life.
Face-to-face with death, the kid can‚Äôt admit it yet. He can‚Äôt admit he‚Äôs a dead son, so he begins instead to bargain. He‚Äôll trade childhood for service and work his way back into the father‚Äôs good graces.
Here‚Äôs where we often construct an alternative end to Jesus‚Äô story and re-introduce the concept of a powerful, punitive God that Jesus has been so zealous in trying to kill. Almost inevitably, we turn the kid‚Äôs words into the model for a little confession ‚ÄĒ
‚Äúwhat I have done an left undone;‚ÄĚ a little penance ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúI‚Äôll work hard, dad!‚ÄĚ so that then the venerable old codger will take the kid (us) back. Not a bad story; sometimes even effective for changing bad behavior; but just not Jesus‚Äôstory and not even close to a description of Jesus‚Äô God.
In Jesus‚Äô story, the God-figure, legally dead and completely emptied, spends all his time waiting ‚ÄĒ watching and waiting ‚ÄĒ and when he sees his child coming, runs out, embraces him and names him, not returning penitent, not dutiful slave, but dead and newly living child and heir; the one the God-figure was willing to give up everything for in the first place. Not one word of judgment, not a whisper of guilt; not a hint that the kid should be ashamed; not a breath of all the things people think God‚Äôs opinion of us ought to be. ‚ÄúSssh!‚ÄĚ the Father hushes. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt say another word.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúMy child was dead and now is alive.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI knew all along,‚ÄĚ the God-figure announces, ‚Äúthat‚Äôs why I kept the finest ring, the best robe and the Gucci sandals. Put ‚Äėem on, dude and let‚Äôs get to the party!‚ÄĚ
That brings us to the last death in Jesus‚Äô story, the crucial death of the fatted calf. In Jesus‚Äô story, you see, the fatted calf is what the Father‚Äôs house is all about; it‚Äôs about a party; it‚Äôs about God having a good time and about God just itching to share that good time. To put it in the words we‚Äôre going to hear over and over again every Sunday for the 50 days of Easter, it is about ‚Äúthe Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world‚ÄĚ who is the essential element of the great and glorious feast.
‚ÄúDrop dead‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúParty on, dude!‚ÄĚ For the God-figure, the us-figure and the Christ-figure that sums up Jesus‚Äô story so far. As Jesus succinctly put it (And, yes, Watson, the King James says it better), ‚Äúthey began to make merry.‚ÄĚ
(Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah). Enter Big Brother, The guy who still has everything ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúall that I have is yours‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ the God-figure reminds him. Big Brother wants God to be powerful and punitive: Popular alternate ending #2 in this parable, but not the way Jesus tells it. When Jesus tells the story,
there is not one word of judgment, not a whisper of guilt; not a hint that the kid should be ashamed; not a breath of all the things people think God‚Äôs opinion of us ought to be. Not a word like that to the youngest child. And not a word like that to the oldest one either. ‚ÄúSssh!‚ÄĚ the God-figure hushes. ‚ÄúNot another word.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúMy child was dead and now is alive.‚ÄĚ So ‚Äúdrop dead, kiddo!‚ÄĚ so we can ‚ÄúParty on, dude!‚ÄĚ
That‚Äôs Jesus‚Äô story and he‚Äôs sticking to it‚Ä¶.all the way to death and resurrection. So am I. So will we.