So, here we are Part 3 of “The Lost Ones” – working through Luke chapter 15 and I can’t seem to write. I’m stuck. It’s disturbing to me really because if you know much about Luke 15 and if you’ve kept up with the blog, you know what’s coming. We’ve talked about the lost sheep, the lost coin and now it’s time for the lost son. But, not just any lost son…the prodigal son.
It’s the climax of the the chapter, the cream of the crop as far as son-searching stories go. And, the reason I feel so stuck is because, well…I really don’t like this story. Never have.
It’s one of those stories that I like to skim and say, “well, how nice, let’s move on”. Now, before you judge me too harshly, lets do just what I’ve been dreading…dive right in. I’ll paraphrase…
A father has two sons and the younger son asks for his inheritance and the father grants his requests and divides his estate between his sons. Then the younger son gathers his belongings, including his inheritance, and leaves. He goes to a “distant country” and squanders his wealth on “wild living”. Then a famine hit and the son had no money, no home and no one. He gets a job feeding pigs, but realizes that even his father’s servants have more than him – good food and warm shelter. So, he goes home prepared to apologize and simply hoping to be his father’s servant. But, to his surprise the father is overjoyed that he is home. He orders his servants to get the family jewels and kill the fattened calf. His son is home and he throws a party.
Now this part of the story is beautiful. A wayward son and a forgiving father. And, in the context of the culture and time, it gets even better.
Luke says that while the younger son “was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). A father running to his son seems natural to us, but in this culture and in this era, a middle eastern man would never run and embrace his son. It just didn’t happen. Additionally, this son betrayed the father by squandering his inheritance among the gentiles. And, according to tradition, a ceremony awaited him if he returned to his village called the Kezazah – a ceremony of shame, cutting him off from his people. So, the father not only ran to his son out of compassion for the son, but also to protect him from the people of his village and the Kezazah that ultimately awaited him. By embracing the son, the father took the shame of the son and displayed to the village that all is forgiven. Jesus’ audience would have known this and would have been amazed at the gesture. And then, to go one step further, the father publicly restores his son to his household with a celebration…the family jewels…the fattened calf…a big, fat party.
Can we just stop the story right there? Please! I love this part and I don’t want to look any further. This story displays beautiful redemption and in some ways I think we can all relate. I mean, I’ve never squandered my inheritance on “wild living”, but I know what it’s like to wake up, so to speak, in a situation that I’d never thought I’d be in…way off course and really far from home. I know what it’s like be welcomed home by my Heavenly Father with grace, mercy and blessings that I don’t deserve. And, I want to believe that my story ends there…God and I live happily ever after. But, the story doesn’t end there because remember there is another son.
Meanwhile, the older son has been working hard in the fields and comes home to this party. His younger brother is home, his father is elated and he is furious. He’s been “slaving” in the fields while his brother squandered his father’s wealth on “prostitutes”. And, now his brother is home and there’s a party not for the faithful son but for the reckless one.
What a baby, right? I mean come on older brother. Quit your griping, put on your big-boy pants and be happy that your wayward brother has come home.
But, you see, I get it. And, what I hate about this story is that I get it and far too many times I’ve been the older brother.
I, like the older brother, just want life to be fair. In pleading his case to the father, the older brother says, “I’ve been slaving for you for years and never disobeying your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15: 29).
Have you been there? Like come on God, I’ve been faithful. I go to church. I read the Bible. I follow the rules and I just need you to come through for me. I just want life to be fair…give me what I deserve.
Anyone??? It’s gross, right? But, I’ve been there.
And, this is where the older brother, I and maybe you miss the boat. First, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the father was at a party and noticed that the older son was missing. He left the party looking for the older son. And, when he finds him he pleads with him to come inside. But, notice how the son addresses the father. He refers to himself as a slave. A slave desperately trying to earn the favor of the father. Working hard in close proximity but missing the father’s heart. No wonder he couldn’t celebrate…there is no joy in slavery. He too, just like his younger brother, was lost. All that the father had was his, not because of what he did but because of who he was…a son.
So, here we have it…two sons…one ran…one stayed…both lost in the same way. Not understanding that true joy and peace come from relationship with the Father. There is no amount of wealth, wild living or even work that will fill you up like the Father’s love.
So, if you find yourself in a position like the younger son, way off course and really far from home I want you to know something…you can come home. The Father’s waiting. Waiting to embrace you. Waiting to take your shame. He’s got a family ring. The party is planned…come on home.
And, if all too often you, like me, find yourself like the older son, exhausted from the work and just tired of this story and life not being fair, remember you’re a son, not a slave. Joy is found in relationship with the Father not in slavery or scorekeeping. See, there’s a party and the Father doesn’t want you to miss it!
Hold on, there’s just one last thing that we cannot forget. There is a third character in this story…the Father. The gracious, compassionate, shame carrying, party throwing and never giving up Heavenly Father. But, let’s please don’t diminish this role to just a character in the story or in our lives. This heart, the heart of the Father, is meant to be an example to us. See, I’ve had the rebellious heart of the younger son and the resentful heart of the older, but I want the heart of the father. And, this is the ultimate lesson y’all. Because, it’s this heart that never stops praying for lost loved ones – the rebellious and the resentful. It’s this heart that knows that no one is ever too far gone. It’s this heart that notices when someone is missing. And, it’s this heart that never gives up, runs with compassion, protects from the Kezazah, embraces sons and daughters, restores relationships and throws a party because what was lost is now found.