Like a joke you’ve heard once too often the fate of parables is to become familiar and like the parable of the prodigal lose their punch. So desperate preachers tell the story from the perspective of an imaginary sister or ask “what did the fattened calf think about all this?” or use the father to talk about codependency and enabling destructive behavior. The truth is the parable has lost its punch as we all know the younger son will come to his senses so the father can forgive and his older brother object and at the end of the sermon the congregation will sing “amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” even if most sympathize fully with the older son in the story. And so the surprise that should come as no surprise is that every three years we spend time and energy trying to put the zing back into a parable we will largely ignore. If, on the other hand, we dare to live into the parable then like my good friend in Pittsburgh, Pastor Tara Lynn who is the older sister/brother in the story, the parable can be so upsetting that you are tempted to preach the epistle. But you don’t because even though you’ve done everything right and worked like a slave all these years you’ve been invited to the party. And even if you think your brother is a “that son of yours” the sound of the music and the smell of BBQ break down your righteous indignation at the extravagant waste of grace so that peeking in the door the Father happens to you as well. That’s the surprise the parable can still muster, when the Father happens to hardworking and hedonist alike, and the fattened calf and ring and robe are as much for children who stay as they are for children who leave only to come home. Surprise!