Jesus has an absolute “thing” about raising the dead. In the Gospels, Jesus never meets a corpse that doesn’t sit up right on the spot. “I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to me,” Jesus says (as we heard back in September). That’s a pretty clear statement in John’s 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’s of a mind to— and, according to latest polls, the jury’s still out on that one — 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’ll put them crudely. “Drop dead” and “Party on, dudes!”

“Drop dead” and “Party on, dudes,” not repentance, remorse — and not even return — is the point of Jesus’ parable of the prodigals. Fast-forward to the end of the parable. At the end of the parable everyone’s died — the father (the God-figure), the youngest sibling (the “us”-figure), even the fatted calf (the Christ-figure [and we’ll get to that later]) — and everyone’s having a riotously good time at a riotously good party except for one guy and he’s the only one having a rotten time.
But before I get any more ahead of myself, let’s get back to Jesus’ story.

“Drop dead.” That’s what the youngest child really says when he asks his father to “give me my share of the property.” “You see, the only way the youngest is ever going to get his portion of the inheritance is if the estate owner drops dead. That’s the way inheritance works. Just ask my children. Here’s the surprise, especially since “the father” is also “the God-figure.” Without batting an eye, the father does exactly that. He drops dead, at least legally. Jesus puts it this way, “So he divided his property between them.” Do you see it? The Father gives both children, youngest and oldest, everything — “empties himself,” is the way Saint Paul will later put it — and then, for all intents and purposes, drops dead. The kids get everything. The parent — the God-figure in the story — has nothing at all.

Once again I remind you: That’s the God we worship, that’s the God Jesus points us to: – generous to the point of impoverishment, loving to the point of powerlessness, giving to the point of emptiness – 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’ story. The youngster takes the money and runs. He “wastes his substance in riotous living,” 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’t the definition of dead, it’s surely the definition of a dead-end life.

Face-to-face with death, the kid can’t admit it yet. He can’t admit he’s a dead son, so he begins instead to bargain. He’ll trade childhood for service and work his way back into the father’s good graces.

Here’s where we often construct an alternative end to Jesus’ 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’s words into the model for a little confession —
“what I have done an left undone;” a little penance — “I’ll work hard, dad!” 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’story and not even close to a description of Jesus’ God.

In Jesus’ story, the God-figure, legally dead and completely emptied, spends all his time waiting — watching and waiting — 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’s opinion of us ought to be. “Sssh!” the Father hushes. “Don’t say another word.” “My child was dead and now is alive.” “I knew all along,” the God-figure announces, “that’s why I kept the finest ring, the best robe and the Gucci sandals. Put ‘em on, dude and let’s get to the party!”
That brings us to the last death in Jesus’ story, the crucial death of the fatted calf. In Jesus’ story, you see, the fatted calf is what the Father’s house is all about; it’s about a party; it’s about God having a good time and about God just itching to share that good time. To put it in the words we’re going to hear over and over again every Sunday for the 50 days of Easter, it is about “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” who is the essential element of the great and glorious feast.

“Drop dead” and “Party on, dude!” For the God-figure, the us-figure and the Christ-figure that sums up Jesus’ story so far. As Jesus succinctly put it (And, yes, Watson, the King James says it better), “they began to make merry.”

(Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah). Enter Big Brother, The guy who still has everything — “all that I have is yours” — 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’s 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. “Sssh!” the God-figure hushes. “Not another word.” “My child was dead and now is alive.” So “drop dead, kiddo!” so we can “Party on, dude!”

That’s Jesus’ story and he’s sticking to it….all the way to death and resurrection. So am I. So will we.