Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 9:6-2
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Have you heard scholars talk about the Prodigal son story before?
It has been pointed out that in the culture of this parable, elders do not run. They walk. They saunter. They sit. They wait. Others come to them.
Much as a Queen sits on her throne, awaiting the approach of callers and counsel, so too did the Elders of ancient societies such as this. Therefore, the image of the father running would inherently stand out. It would strike its listeners as odd: what Elder would run? …much less to meet an errant child!
It is the Elder’s right to remain seated. It is the Parent’s prerogative to hold out on the son. But this Father runs to his wayward son.
He shows his hand.
He humbles himself.
He releases his power.
And then looking at Philippians, we hear an echo:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Christ humbled himself.
Christ left the bliss of unity with God in heaven.
He, a Prince, left his throne and emptied himself, coming – in the stature of a slave,
teaching and healing – with the humility of a servant, and dying – in the stature of a criminal.
In both the Father of Jesus’ parable and in Paul’s witness to Christ, we witness a laying aside of power and control.
And there’s more!
In the scripture we read in 1 Corinthians, Paul expressed that he does not make use of his full rights in the Gospel – in order to make the gospel free and accessible to all.
Unlike the oxen Moses commanded to keep unmuzzled, that he may freely eat as he labors, unlike the priests who eat from the sacrifices brought, unlike the other apostles who have taken wives, unlike the farmer who plows the field and eats of its yield, Paul chooses to take nothing from the “fields of his labor.” Paul chooses to work a second job for his living.
Paul lays down his rights to income from his labors of ministry – that by doing so, more may come to know Christ.
He does this joyfully.
He does this willingly.
Paul – like the Father of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and like Christ leaving heaven for humanity on earth – lays down his rights.
He humbles himself. He pours himself out. …and all for the sake of the Gospel.
And I suspect Paul tells the Corinthians this BECAUSE they are torn in dissension. They are dividing into camps. Each to his own – some are doing as they think best but without regard for one another.
Paul is addressing a people like those of our nation.
Paul is addressing a church like our own.
…for as much as we love one another, we also bicker. We argue. We rehearse our litanies of wrongdoing.
And to this people, Paul sets himself as an example to them: he has a right to take much, but he refrains, for their sake. He has power to wield, but he lays it down, for their sake.
And like the Father of the “prodigal son,” Paul can sit down and wait for the wayward, repentant ones to come to him. But like the Father, Paul runs. He traverses land and sea, oft in peril, to bring this good news to any and all who will receive him.
Like Christ, Paul does not consider his position or rights something to be exploited or cashed in on. Rather like Christ, Paul humbles himself, taking the form of a slave – working for nothing – that there may be no barriers between the gospel and the people.
And so what of us?
Will we humble ourselves as such,
Becoming all things to all people,
Going the extra mile,
Laying down power and authority, possession and privilege,
Running to greet those who, like ourselves, cannot ever deserve the unstopping, never-giving-up, love of Christ?
We are a litigious society, knowing our rights and fighting for our liberty.
But will we lay those rights down, if it means one more soul might know Christ’s love?
Jesus teaches us,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
Those who save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Christ’s sake, will find it.
Power and possession,
Privilege and authority,
Might and right?
Will we do so for the sake of unity?
Will we do so for the sake of sharing and generosity?
We will do so – relinquishing the reigns and making room at the table?
Will we do so – relinquishing power over the narrative?
Will we do so – relinquishing our will and our ways?
Will we release control over our lives-
Sliding over to let Christ into the driver’s seat-
That our lives
And our will
Might serve the least of these?
Will we release control over our passions
That our minds
And our hearts
Might drop what we are doing
And run to meet