It's All About The Party! The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Luke 15:11- 32 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property on wild living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said,‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” ************************************************************
There was a man with two sons. He was probably a farmer- he had not only hired workers, but also owned some slaves. So let's revise that first statement... there was a wealthy man who had two sons. Probably like most families, they had their fair share of disagreements, especially as the boys became teenagers; a little more drama, lots of black and white, either/or thinking. Teens often feel that their parents don't understand them; they see their parent's as "unfair," or that parents play favorites
You know the song... They get up on a Saturday morning, grab a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and their cell phone (cause they don’t go anywhere without their cell phone)… and plop themselves in front of the TV. And Dad comes in to the room and says (to the one who looks up)… "I want you and your brother to go break down all those boxes for recycling this morning before you go anywhere…" And after the younger one finishes arguing why he can’t possibly do any household chores today because he promised he would go meet his friends and he has a ton of“homework” to do all weekend, and after some pouting or slamming or some other venting-type behavior, he ends up stomping outside to meet his brother who is already busy breaking up the boxes.
There are a lot of emotions that go on in a kid’s head when they feel like they are being forced to do something that they don’t want to do. "I'm being treated unfairly. Dad doesn’t understand me… He has no clue about my life. He is trying to control me!"
So one day, maybe after one of these arguments, maybe after he had spent all night texting and didn’t get enough sleep, maybe after a fight with girlfriend… the younger son decides that life would be better if he was the boss of him… and although he had fantasized about it, and threatened to do it before, this morning, he goes to his father and says, "Give me my share of whatever I’m going to get from you someday. I’m getting out of here!"
And Dad complies. The interesting thing (if we can stop here for a second), is that for the moment, this kid had summed up everything that he would be left from his father to material things… he had reduced his whole inheritance, to money... to a sack of coins. Funny, how we measure value isn’t it?
Now, we haven’t yet mentioned big brother. I love that Jesus calls him the “elder brother.” Meaning, he had already lived through all this stuff… more mature… in theory at least. Yet, having been through all of this himself, he makes no effort to try to stop the younger brother from leaving. And we don’t have to think very long before we come up with a time in our lives when we have been just like this. When we see someone about to do something so stupid, or something that we know will lead them down the wrong path … but we are more concerned about ourselves and our lives and our concerns than we are about getting involved with anyone else… and our younger brother… or our friend, or our neighbor, or a member of our church family, is walking away… but we do nothing to stop them. Instead we shake our heads… “Well, they are big enough to make their own decisions… I’ll pray for them…”
And meanwhile, we feel good about ourselves for not acting that way. As if, somehow, this person falling away gives us a chance say, “Hey, at least I didn’t do that…” And we even talk about it with others in the community, as if we are now in some higher place where we get to look down on and pray for all those who aren’t as faithful as we are. (Come on… I’m only being honest here… I've been to those prayer meetings too.)
So as elder brother looks down the path, shakes his head and says, “idiot,” And he goes back to work and life on the farm goes along… a little more peacefully without the annoying presence of 'problem child'… and elder brother is such a good son; he even tries to comfort dad…"You did all you could, Dad... he was out of control... he did it to himself..."
But life for the younger brother also moves along. And as the father had probably guessed when he was handing over the cash, the kid isn’t doing well on his own. (None of us do very well when we are all alone do we?) It wasn’t so bad at first. He took some of the money and got his own place, and bought the store out of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and milk, and he slept in as long as he wanted and text his friends right up until the minute his cell phone got shut off. He got a job, but minimum wage only goes so far, so he got a couple of roommates, who brought in Fruity Pebbles and a PS3.., and also this smell that wouldn’t quit… So one day at work, when he was out back by the dumpster, breaking up the boxes for the recycling, wishing he could afford some of the food he smelled cooking inside his place of employment, he got to thinking…'maybe it’s time to go home.'
But you know, once you leave a place, even if its home, it’s so difficult to come back. It’s not so much that you have to admit that you were wrong… everybody makes mistakes- you know that. But there is all this other stuff that is mixed in… Guilt for one… it was hurtful when you left… even though you were angry and maybe still think you were right in some ways… there was stuff that is not reconciled… and maybe there is even a bit of shame involved. But worse… is the fear of the conversation that you are sure will take place when you see the ones you left: “I told you so! I told you, you shouldn't have acted that way! You were so pigheaded! What made you think you could make it on your own? Idiot!”
And even if forgiveness waits on the other end of that conversation, you still have to go through it. So you prepare…by playing the conversation over in your own mind a hundred times so that when it happens, you can be ready… or if you are like me, at least not cry. And that’s what the younger brother does… he plays out a conversation in his head that he hopes will help him get back into dad’s good graces. “I’ll just go through it,” he thinks.. “I’ll tell him what a screw up I am and how stupid this was, and I’ll ask him to take me back as one of his servants… that has to be better than this…” Interesting isn’t it, that sometimes the only way we realize we need to repent is when we are desperate for help. I’m just leaving that one out there for you to think about…
Anyway, the younger son gathers up his courage and he makes his way toward home. And he keeps focused by keeping his head down and practicing his speech… “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands...”
While he was still a long way off… one of my favorite lines in scripture... before we even are close to getting it right, before we are cleaned up, while we're still preparing our hearts to be "right" so we can approach God.... while he was still a long way off... the Father sees him and runs to meet him with his arms open wide and crashes right into him and bear hugs him like there is no tomorrow… and the rain of tears and kisses don’t stop as the father blubbers with joy… and he won’t let his son get a word in edgewise… it’s no longer important, how it happened or what had brought him to it or where he had been or what he had done… he was home! And the father slaps his arm around the kid's shoulders and starts pulling him toward the house so heartily that his feet are hardly touching the ground… and the father can’t stop laughing as he shouts… “Look who’s here! It’s fantastic! My son’s home… we need to have a party!”
Its great isn’t’ it? Except when the elder brother gets wind of what’s going on, he freaks out. I mean, come on, being forgiving is one thing, but for what this kid did? What kind of a man is his father that he’s letting the kid walk all over him! What about justice? What about repentance? He should have to at least say he’s sorry or do something to make up for it!
And so elder brother pulls his father aside and says “What are you doing? This kid treated you like crap! And he’s being rewarded for it? And what about me? I’ve been here the whole time? I didn’t leave and I never got treated like that!"
I don’t know about you, but I get the elder brother. I understand just where he is. When someone does something wrong- they should have to pay for it. Tolerance and forgiveness is great, but I’m not going to be a doormat for someone and just let them waltz back into my life just when (and because) they need something. I’m not letting anyone use me! And further… my God shouldn’t be used that way! God needs people who can work hard, faithful people like me, people who can help support the church, not these needy ones! And not for nothing God, but I don’t remember ever getting a party like that and I’ve been here the whole time!
And the father answers… "Any time you want you can have a party like this! You’re with me all the time… your whole life can be a party if you want it to! Your brother was lost, but now he’s found!"
The most curious part about this whole thing is that these boys, and especially the elder brother, even though he was there the whole time, didn’t know his dad very well at all. He had a misperception of who his father was, and what he was about. And I think that we do so much the same thing with God. Much as we profess to serve a God of forgiveness and unconditional love, and we profess to have a relationship with God that is not based on works, but based on grace, we don’t always live it out that way. We sometimes choose to put God in the role of this ruler/parent figure who has a list of do’s and don’ts for us to follow- a God who loves us, yes, but constrains us, who doesn’t really understand us, or let us do what WE want. Consequently, we become the elder brother… following the rules, brooding as we do, fearful that we might be cut off from God if we stray.
Why? Because we can’t imagine letting ourselves off the hook for all the stuff we have done… or anyone else letting us off the hook, much less God granting us total forgiveness.
But this is the way of our heavenly parent. And if we understood God, and if we truly realized that regardless of what we do or what we think or how far we stray, that God still cherishes us, that God still loves us, that God still forgives us… then we wouldn’t be able to stop celebrating! In fact, if we realized that this grace and this love and this forgiveness never runs out, if we understood the God we serve as one who wants our lives to be rich and full, and was willing to go far enough to die on a cross to show us that, then we would never even think of running away. We would be the ones running down the path to meet our 'prodigal' brother and welcome him home…in fact, we would be out every day before that trying to look for him and bring him back home.
You want a party elder brother? Try going out and finding someone who is lost… someone who is sure God, or the family, or the community, or the church, will never take them back... you don’t have to look too far... welcome them back to the forgiving arms of God- not with judgment or an, “I told you…idiot”… but with the embrace of love and grace. Watch the party!!!
In fact, maybe there's a prodigal in the making that we can catch before they decide to walk away. You know, the one who never seems to do things right. The one who drives you crazy and you can't stand to work next to, because when it comes to recycling, he never breaks the boxes down correctly- the folds are always off... that person. And even though it's easier, elder brother, to wish him away, that's not our business, is it? No- our business is healing and reconciliation, so why wait until we have to go get him? That my friends, is what I call, party planning!
Or, for the “younger brother” times in our lives… and we all have those… know that forgiveness is offered before you even ask for it… that regardless of how it may look or feel, that you already have a royal robe on your back and ring on your finger and because you come from and are a part of God! And no matter how hard you try, you can’t get God to stop loving you! I know it’s hard to believe… but no matter how far off you think you are, or how much you’ve done or who you’ve hurt of where you’ve been, that God is at this moment running toward you with arms wide open…ready to crash right into you and rain laughter and tears and kisses all over you and bear hug you so tight your feet won’t touch the ground. Come home… Let’s Go Party!