discernment, evil, father, lost, our hearts, treasure

The Older Brother, #10d

Luke 15:25-32, (part four of four)

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “”Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’”

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’””

Things get interesting here. The older brother can’t understand grace, love or real joy. They’re foreign concepts to him. The father and the younger son are partying, and he can’t make the connection from dot-to-dot. All that’s happening is really difficult. His religious diligence won’t let allow him to join in this raucous celebration. People are swinging on the chandeliers, and it really irritates him.

God’s grace is the most radical thing in the universe.

It must be experienced before it can really be explained. Things don’t compute for the elder son. He’s angry, and he feels like he needs to express his “righteous” indignation to his father. He has been holding it for so long that it finally erupts. Ultimately, it can’t, or won’t be contained.

On a religious basis, the older brother’s issues might be commendable to some readers. He works hard in the fields of his father. He’s unlike his flighty brother, and yes, he makes a point of that. There’s a certain logic here. But honestly, logic isn’t a part of the kingdom of God. It never was. It isn’t.

Anger and resentment drives this part of the parable.

You must understand anger in order to understand. Resenting others often comes when grace is absent. The basis of religion is always comparison. We can theorize grace, but we can’t or won’t receive it for ourselves. And to be painfully honest, we’ll never see it in others–even if we “profess” it. We might turn it into systematic theology, but it remains theoretical.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are, and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

Anger and resentment are the quiet killers of the spiritual life. We never get what we think we’ve earned by working in the fields. He didn’t understand what the fuss is all about when his younger brother came home. He didn’t understand grace, and the absolute joy that is a vital part of it.

Anger has made the older brother foolish.

That concept alone should alert us of trouble in our own hearts. To be “un-graceful” will take over our hearts and cause us to distort the Kingdom into something very ugly. When will we see this?

The father calls the older brother “son.” He also communicates his love and acceptance. But the father also shares his new-found joy over the prodigal’s return, (verse 32, Amplified). That particular vision communicates on a level that it violates the “rules” of being a good Christian.

This last part of this story very quickly shifts from religious anger to an unreal grace. I often ask myself, am I fully understanding God’s grace, do I see the Father’s joy?

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father, joy, kingdom, our hearts, repentance

A Father Who is Running, #10c

The Father Runs

Luke 15:20-24, (part three of four)

20 “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

“Cursed is the man that feeds the swine.” That’s the commentary on Jewish ritual cleanness. The prodigal knew this, but when you’re starving, tradition is thrown out the window. It’s really hard to be spiritually correct when your stomach is growling. In verse 17, we see that the prodigal suddenly realized his condition. Notice the change:

It took sometime for this to happen. But it was a true and a complete repentance. A total alteration of his mind and heart took place at that point. And I must assume, when he finally made the decision to return, he didn’t even say ‘good bye’ to the pigs.

It’s the Father’s reaction that fascinates me.

How does God see us? Is he angry or frustrated? And yes I suppose, there is ample reason for him to treat us with caution. Deep down, we know exactly how dark we are, and on a superficial level we realize our dirt doesn’t belong in heaven. And yet the father is in a party frame of mind. That isn’t rational.

And there were no tests given to evaluate the son’s sincerity. Did he really repent, or was it all for show? The text tell us that he was hungry, maybe he just wanted a hand-out? Did he meet the criteria needed for reinstatement? It amazes me, there wasn’t a 30 day waiting period to determine whether the prodigal had truly repented. No, the party started when the father hugged his son.

Do you see the “suddenness” of this part of the story?

At least for me, the pace quickens, and I imagine the whole household jumped up to get in the act. Verse 10 explains the joy that reverberates through heaven at this, Just so, I tell you, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy seems to be the key thought to really “get” these verses. If we can’t see it saturate (like a sponge) we’ll never understand this parable. Its not hard if you can read it with excitement and anticipation. If you decide to do so, it’ll make a lot of sense, and it’ll be less mysterious.

This story is as much about the father as it’s about the son.

In it we see the character of the Father revealed. We see his joy, and excitement over his son’s return. Right from the start we see him running, (v. 20) moving to his son. I can see a weeping father giving his son a big bear hug and lots of kisses. He has hoped and dreamed about this moment.

Golly, there is so much to be said: there’s rings and shoes and roasted calves. But I think that the tremendous lesson is the joy of the father. It tells me much about what he’s like–and he’s not at all what I thought he’d be.

He’s the Father who is always moving, and he runs to meet us. He’s the One who is filled with joy at our return. And honestly, aren’t we always returning?

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faith, joy, lost, our hearts, repentance, separation

A Very Lost Son, #10a

Painting by Rembrandt, 1667

Luke 15:11-32, part 1 of 4

11 He also said, 

“A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 

14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ 

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’”

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Magnificent, defined

adjective

  1. impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking/ “a dramatic landscape of magnificent mountains”
  2. very good; excellent/ “she paid tribute to their magnificent efforts”

This is one of the most exquisite passages in all of scripture. If the Bible is a mountain range, then this would be Everest. This is the third parable–all in Luke 15, and all dealing with lost things. Everything is lost in this chapter, but we could also say that everything is found, and we wouldn’t be in error. This story is one artists love to paint, and preachers like to preach.

They say that every actor dreams about playing “Hamlet,” and Jesus’ story is a dream for every reader and thinker or actor. As a writer I don’t really know how to begin, I could easily produce a library with this simple parable. (And some have tried.)

There are just three characters here: the Father, the son and the elder brother–and each play an integral part of the story. The prodigal is the main character, but the father is the main focus. The son is a wastrel, a good-for-nothing rascal who blows his father’s inheritance on parties, booze and prostitutes. He lives for the moment, he seeks pleasure in those things which destroy him.

Haven’t we all done that; at least to a degree?

The father represents God, who represents the loving patriarch of the parable. He’s the one who has turned over the prodigal’s portion of the inheritance. To a degree I suppose he has funded the prodigal’s descent into depravity, and yet it was the son who decided to go crazy. The father is not to blame.

But in this story, the father is vital. His actions are very difficult for us to grasp. He behaves outrageously, his behavior is quite difficult to understand or fathom. Who acts this way? Granted we think our earthly fathers might do this, but on a superficial level it doesn’t make any sense at all. This parable describes how God feels about sinners.

But don’t blame dad.

This post is merely an introduction. I intend to do a couple of posts based on this parable. Obviously, I can’t begin to do this justice, and even with two or three more posts I’ll be only skimming the surface–most likely, inadequately. I covet your prayers. I love this parable, perhaps more than any other, I definitely want to do it justice.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”  

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

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