Luke 15:21-32 (ESV) (part one of a three part series)
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.’ 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. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
The older son says he’s upset because his brother gets a party and he doesn’t. That sounds like an excuse. What’s one feast in the grand scheme of things? The father makes this point when he says, “all that is mine is yours.” The real lesson is in the psychology behind the older son’s pique.
The celebration (actually the forgiveness behind the celebration) offends the older son’s sense of justice. The prodigal son is catching a break, not because he deserves it, but because he needs it. To the older son, that’s just wrong. He trashed his own life; that should count for something.
The idea that the prodigal son should suffer the consequences of his actions is logical – but that’s not how the father thinks – and that’s not how God thinks either. You see things differently when you’re in charge.
The difference is this thing called grace, which is a complex concept. It’s easy to memorize that God forgives people who have messed up totally. Wanting them to be forgiven is something else again.
That’s the genius of the command, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Imagine someone who’s suffering. Let’s just say it’s a teenaged boy and he’s all bruised up, with lots of bandages and one arm in a cast. He doesn’t look like he fell off a bicycle; he looks like he fell off a train. Do you feel for him? How would you pray for him?
Now suppose further that you learn he got all busted up because he taunted farmer Brown’s prized bull. Did your sympathy just go down a notch or two? How would you pray for him now? Remember, just like the prodigal son, he’s not in denial; he knows he messed up. He doesn’t need any more pain.
To the father these two situations aren’t all that different. Kids make lots of mistakes – each one a teachable moment. Pain is very educational. When someone is covered in bruises, the lesson is clear.
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