The passage that we talked about comes from Luke 15, the parable Jesus told about the "prodigal" or sometimes translated "lost" son. It came up in church one morning and at LaFa last week we listened to a recording of Walter Jacobsen from his "Transition" series connected to the same passage. Without reprinting the whole passage (which you can find here), here's the basic synopsis:
A man has 2 sons. The younger one (probably in his teens/twenties) approaches him one day and asks for his inheritance. The father gives it to him. Then the younger son goes to a far away place and lives wildly, spending his money freely and doing whatever he wants. A famine hits the land where he's living and suddenly he has nothing and no way to even get food. He ends up working for a pig farmer, and was so hungry that the pigs' slop looked appetizing. The son decided that he would go back to his father and beg to be hired on as a servant.Something that came up in the discussion at LaFa that I never really gave much thought to was the relationship that each son had with the father at the beginning of the story. The younger son basically treated his father as though he was already dead. (Can you imagine going up to your dad and saying, "I want my inheritance in cash so I can leave town"?!?). He left town, severing the relationship even further. The older son, though, didn't have the greatest relationship with his father, either, I'm assuming. Based on his reaction to his father's actions when his brother returned, the brother seemed to have some issues with his father, too. Basically, he seemed to be working for his dad out of an obligation, not out of love.
On his way home, while he was still far away, his father saw him and ran out to meet him. The son had prepared a speech "I've sinned again heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." The father simply said to his servants, "Get the robe and ring, get him some sandals, kill the fattened calf, we're going to celebrate that my son is home!"
The older brother, who had been home the whole time with his father, heard about the party that was going on for his brother and became upset. He didn't want to join the party so his father came out to try and convince him. The son complained to his father, saying "I've been working for you all these years, I've always been here, and you've never let me even kill one of the goats to party with my friends. Now my brother comes home after spending his entire inheritance on whatever he felt like, and you throw him the biggest party ever!" The father replied, "You are always with me and everything that I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
(My paraphrase of Luke 15:11-32)
Let's look at the younger son for a minute. He leaves, lives on his own for awhile just fine, then famine hits. He suddenly has no food to eat, nothing. He realizes then that he can't make it on his own. He needs his father, even if he could just be a hired hand on his father's property, at least he would have food to eat! He decides to go back, he will pay back his father if his father will accept him.
How often I approach God with the attitude that the younger son had. I behave as though I need to repay God for the sin in my life. I repent and ask for forgiveness, but then I still feel the need to "do" all this other stuff in order to be acceptable in His eyes. The truth, though, is seen in how this father responds to his son's return.
The son comes back. He probably received a lot of dirty looks as he walked back to his dad's property. He probably was filthy, clothed in rags, and the object of much shame. Before he gets home, though, his dad runs out to greet him. Back in that time, men wore long robes and sandals and in order to run, the robes needed to be lifted up off the ground to prevent tripping. Didn't happen often. Running was considered to be shameful. Walter Jacobsen said something along the lines of, "The father ran, showing that he didn't want his son to be hurting for one minute longer than it took him to come back. By running to meet his son, the father brought more shame on himself than the son had." In effect, the father ran, causing everyone's eyes to look at him instead of his son.
The shame and guilt that I feel has already been taken on by Jesus. Through him I am acceptable. The father didn't respond or react to his son's speech...he just started giving orders to his servants to prepare a party. The father is *thrilled* that the son is back.
Okay, now back to the older son. He's ticked that his dad is throwing a party for his delinquent brother. The father's statement that "All I have is yours" is true. He divided his assets, giving half to the younger brother and keeping the rest, in effect, the older brother's inheritance. The brother missed the blessing of it all and the time spent with his father because he was working hard, trying to earn his father's favor, trying to do everything he could just so his father might let him throw a party for all his friends.
The older brother was living in the role of the "good" son. He missed the point. Much like I often do the "right" things because I know they are the right things, or minister because I know I should be ministering or whatever, following those rules in such a legalistic way causes you to get burnt out and miss out on the point of the story and the reason Jesus came.
The younger son needed to fall flat on his face before he realized that he needed his father. Even then, he thought that he wasn't worthy of being called "son," so he wanted to work as a servant. The father accepted him, though, as though he always knew he would come back. He never said anything about repayment or "I told you so" or anything.
Did the father love one of his sons more than the other? No. Did he love his sons less at the beginning of the story than at the end? No. The father's love never changed. The most painful time for the dad was probably when his youngest son asked him for the inheritance and then left. The father knew that he needed to let him go in order to ever have a relationship with him in the future.
God doesn't want our obedience for obedience sake. He wants a relationship with us, where we come to him out of our love for him not out of obligation. What would my life look like if I read my Bible with the enthusiasm that I read the Harry Potter books? What would it look like if I talked to God (in prayer), spilling my guts, laughing and crying like I would with one of my best girls?