Sometimes it is hard to accept Truth…especially if it goes against everything we thought we were fighting for.
The religious leaders were upset at Jesus again. As Christ journeyed across the countryside, He spent a lot of His time with sinners and tax collectors, and they didn’t like it. They couldn’t see the beauty of His pursuing love for the lost. They couldn’t see how their own vision was bent and distorted from their own pride and malice. And they certainly couldn’t see the many ways He kept pursuing them with His love.
So Jesus taught parables to show the bright, true hope that God the Father offers to every repentant sinner. He taught the hope of the Kingdom of Heaven:
“‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
Imagine the selfishness of this son. He was not only abandoning his family, he was dividing the family wealth. Instead of building and contributing, he was taking and shaming and rejecting.
Imagine how the neighbors talked as land was sold off to give the son his part. Imagine the pain of his father as he watched his son leave.
The son was determined to do things his own way, but things only got worse for him:
“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So he got up and went to his father.
But while he 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.
The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.’”
Wow. Isn’t the love of the father in this story amazing? That is the love our heavenly Father has towards all of His children.
Spend a minute and imagine yourself in that story. Think about all your imperfections…all the ways you feel broken and unworthy. Now imagine going on a journey to God. And when you arrive…instead of condemning you, instead of pointing out your faults, God the Father comes running. He kisses you, embraces you…holds you in the arms of His powerful love. Look at the picture above and imagine that you are the one being held by the man with so much compassion and love on His face.
Did you notice the spirit of the son as he came back to his father? Was he demanding and rude? Did he expect to have all the rights and wealth of a son? Was he full of self-pity? Or did he admit that he had been terribly wrong?
When the son returned to his father, he came with a truly repentant spirit, full of remorse. He knew he had lost his inheritance. He expected to bear the consequences for what he had wasted. The old, sinful way of life had been left behind. He came with humility…and was restored his humanity.
One of the reasons stories are so powerful is because they highlight truth in a way that engages our minds and our hearts as we think about the way the world really is. The sort of sin this son was involved in can be portrayed in the movies and on TV, as very glamorous…even sophisticated. As genuinely good as those sins might feel in the moment, the story of how the partying ended for the Prodigal Son has been retold in the lives of thousands upon thousands who have been decimated by the lie that sin is worth it. When he was at his worst, his wild friends were nowhere to be found, and he was living in humiliating degradation. God is not mocked. We reap what we sow. And yet this story also shows the incredible, wonderful truth on the other side of that…there is a God who, though He sees us at our worst, will come running and will embrace us when we turn to Him in repentance.
The story could have ended there…with a delighted and relieved father and a son restored. But they weren’t the only members of this family.
The older son wasn’t so happy with the new developments. Jesus explained:
“‘Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving away for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
“‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brothers of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’”
Would you have been mad if you were the older brother? Do you understand why he was upset? It would be frustrating to serve so many years, only to have your brother receive a mighty celebration after abandoning the family! But the son was forgetting the bigger blessings that he was always receiving. He got to be near his father! He had worked many years doing vigorous, worthwhile things for the family. That is the rich stuff of life! And he stood in the position to receive all that was left of his father’s inheritance. It was well earned, but it was also a huge blessing. He would never have to feel the agony of the bad choices his brother had made.
But the really big thing the brother missed was something the father understood very well. When his brother was in rebellion, he was living in a way that can very quickly lead to death. Sinful behavior lead to friendships with other people who want to share in sinful deeds, and it leads to areas of greater destruction and danger for the body and the soul. In his rebellion, his brother was as good as dead, and it was a true miracle that his circumstances became so miserable that he finally made his way back home.
The brother might have asked himself why he was more worried about his position and honor in the family than he was about the life of his own brother? Why wasn’t he excited to see his long lost brother alive?
The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ time might have asked themselves the same question, especially after hearing this revealing parable.