Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “The Prodigal Daughter“ based on Luke 7:36-50 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, July 7, 2019
When the sermon theme The Prodigal Daughter popped into my head to go along with the word of God before us today…well, I thought that was pretty clever! Because the lady in our text from Luke 7 had squandered her life in wild living, come back tearfully, was welcomed willingly, and that welcoming stirred up some hard feelings—just like in the more famous parable that Jesus told in Luke 15. Only it’s the Prodigal Daughter here, rather than the Prodigal Son. Get it?? But when I googled it, I found out that—unbeknownst to me, entire books have already been written with the title “The Prodigal Daughter.”
Oh well, there’s truly nothing new under the sun! Except mercy—mercy undeserved, unexplainable and inexhaustible, mercy from the heart of your God directly to you and me, radiating from the perfection of Christ, rendering our polluted minds pure, our tainted hearts holy, our soiled hands sparkling in his sight again and again and again. That mercy is new—every day, every hour, every minute. We’ll see today that whether we’re talking about Luke 7 or Luke 15, the message is the same. Jesus is a constant friend of sinners. And that, fellow prodigal daughters and sons, that means everything for our lives.
36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. It will help us paint a mental picture of the scene if we set aside our images of modern day Thanksgiving Day feasts, sitting elbow to elbow with a growns up table/kids table. We should also set aside the image of DaVinci’s Last Supper, with the 12 sitting picnic table style, all facing the same direction. It wasn’t like that either. Here our old buddy google helps us once again…when you do a little googling on the subject you can find a bunch of images of the Roman Triclinium, which was a very common banquet set up back in these days. The food is in the middle on low table. The guests are situated on three sections of couches. Head toward the food, feet away from the food. The servants of the house stand behind the couches. And here’s an important detail…the community—those not invited to dine, were still welcome to come into the house to listen in on the dinner conversation. And with Jesus, a popular and controversial rabbi visiting, there were bound to be a lot of people, standing behind the couches, just listening.
All of which is a possible explanation for why this woman and this Pharisee, people who probably ran in very different social circles would find themselves in the same house listening to the same dinner conversation. It also explains why this woman would’ve been standing “behind Jesus” and had access to “his feet.”
37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Commentators have speculated about what exactly a “sinful life” means, but maybe it’s enough to just leave things general, because that wording makes her like every one of us. Is there anybody here who hasn’t led a sinful life? We come here having committed to hate that oft repeated sin and yet we then go back take the devil’s hand again. We come here having promised “tomorrow will be different!” But then tomorrow ends up being the same as today and yesterday and twenty years ago. Who hasn’t led a sinful life? And don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “yeah, I’ve sinned, but I haven’t led a sinful life, I mean…not like the lady in the story.” When you do that, you suddenly cross the line into Pharisee territory—they were the kings of whataboutism, always able to find someone else who was badder than they were. And of all the people in the story, the Pharisees, remember, are the bad guys—because they’re the ones who refused to in any way acknowledge the depths of their depravity.
Learn a lesson from the lady in our text. Don’t try to convince Jesus what a great person you are. He knows you too well. Don’t try to make excuses. The only person you’re fooling is yourself. Instead, weep at the immensity of your sins, knowing you can never conquer them by yourself. They are too much for you. Pour them out at Jesus feet. Like the prodigal daughter, come home.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” But that’s the thing. He wasn’t unaware. Jesus knew exactly who was coming to him and throwing herself at his feet. He knew more about her than any other person in the room. Her vilest deeds, her ugliest thoughts. He knew about each and every one. He had to, because he was going to pay for each and every one.
Simon, the Pharisee, thinks “Why doesn’t he stop her? Why doesn’t he recoil in hurt and horror and tell her to get away from him? Sure she looks pathetic now, but what about all the years she was doing whatever she wants. Doesn’t he care?” If you’ll remember, that’s exactly what the older brother was thinking in the parallel story of the Prodigal Son!
But there’s one more connection between the two stories, and it centers on the meaning of that word “prodigal.” It means extravagantly, excessively pouring out. We see two examples of the daughter in our text being prodigal. Yes, she had poured out many years of her life in prodigal, excessive living. But in response to Simon’s complaints, Jesus points out another way she is “prodigal.”
44 Turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, but you did not give me water for my feet. Yet she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but she, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. (EHV) She not only pours out her perfume excessively, she pours out her gratitude excessively. She responds to Jesus’ extravagant love by loving him extravagantly.
You might be tempted to ask…how do I do that? But that’s the wrong question to ask first. Because loving him much doesn’t start with your hands. It starts with the heart. That’s what we see in the lady of our text. She came to grips with how much she owed, how often she’d fallen, how it had all been wiped out and forgiven. And then out of what was in her heart, her hands acted. Her love showed in her actions.
It’s worth asking if people say the same when they look at us. Do they look at us and say, “they have been forgiven much, so they love much.” I want the answer for me to be yes. But I know the answer for me, and it gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. For my sinful nature wants to love “not much,” wants to do just enough to keep from getting yelled at, just enough to garner some positive recognition, just enough so I can consider my Christian duty carried out, and can get back to doing what I want to do as quickly as possible.
Jesus forgive me, forgive us, for our frugal response to your prodigal, extravagant love. Wash us clean every minute, every hour in the furious flood of mercy that flows from your cross. And then come to our aid, be our motivation and might that we might every minute, every hour love you more and more. And help us to love the people around us extravagantly—that’s when it’s good to be prodigal.
Be prodigal, dear friends, in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Be generous with words that build people up rather than tearing them down. Give unhesitatingly of your time and attention. with your time. Devote your all to stomping out temptation before it gets its foot in the door. Pour yourself unreservedly into capturing every thought and making it captive to Christ Jesus—because he is the friend of sinners, and he is the fount of prodigal mercy. Amen.