Vicar Matt Doebler
Matins Devotion: May 15, 2023
Over the last couple of weeks, our Tuesday bible class has been taking a look at how Lutherans differ from other Christian denominations with regard to confession and absolution. Pastor Fiene has been leading us through the Roman Catholic view and I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks guiding us through the various protestant and evangelical positions.
In all this, it’s becoming clear what a gift we have been given in both our continued use of private confession absolution and in the corporate confession and absolution that our liturgy guides us through every week. What I mean is that true repentance is not something that comes naturally. We come up with all sorts of ways to get it wrong—whether by thinking that we need to add works of satisfaction to prove our sincerity or by suggesting that repentance is something so extraordinary that it only applies to “big sins” and, accordingly, is only done by “big sinners.”
The point is that, left to our own human reasoning, we will never rightly understand either repentance or the nature of God’s forgiveness. Notice how, in the parable read this morning, both of these sons get it wrong. The younger son who wastes his father’s inheritance and ends up living in a pigsty thinks that repentance is found in wrapped up in becoming his father’s slave. Likewise, we see that the older son has always thought of himself as a slave. He’s so full of self-righteousness that he can’t see his own sin. He thinks repentance is only for the other guy.
Yet, in both cases, the father seeks to lead each of these sons to the truth. He cuts the younger son off mid-sentence—before he can announce his ill-devised plan to make satisfaction—and declares him to be once again his son. And then we see the father leave the party and go outside to lovingly confront the self-righteous hatred of the older son—reminding him that his place at the table was never his to earn, but it was always the father’s gift to give.
All of this shows us how, at its heart, this parable—often called the parable of the prodigal son—is really not about the son at all—either one of them. Rather, it is about the father. The father who won’t hear of any talk which smacks of making satisfaction. The father who freely reconciles the sinner. The father who won’t just sit idly by and let his sons think that they can earn his love by becoming his slaves.
And this is what I mean when I speak of both our practice of private and corporate confession and absolution as gifts. When you go to your pastor to unburden your sins and hear the words of absolution….When we corporately confess that “we are by nature sinful and unclean” and hear that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake… whenever this happens, we are being formed to understand repentance rightly. True repentance is not a cooperative effort whereby we attempt to satisfy God through a series of satisfactions—nor is it something that we only need once in a while. Rather, as Luther said, "the entire Christian life should be one of repentance"…a daily return to our baptism…to that declaration of God that we are his dear children and that he is our dear Father…true repentance is nothing more and nothing less than that daily bath that drowns the old Adam so that a new man can come forth. It’s not something that comes naturally. It only comes through hearing the Word of God over, and over, and over again. And, thanks be to God, in our church’s liturgy and practice, we do.