“Familiarity breeds contempt,” as it is said. While I didn’t have contempt for the prodigal’s story, I was so familiar with it that there seemed to be nothing new to glean from this parable.
How wrong I was!
Luke 15 finds Jesus drawing tax collectors and sinners, while Pharisees and scribes looked on and complained.
He begins to tell them stories – three, in fact:
The lost sheep
The lost coin
The prodigal son
All three have one thing in common: something was lost.
In the first two, however, a search ensues. They leave what is safe in the fold and in the house, and go in search of what is lost.
(This is where our story gets interesting!)
Is this true?
Sure enough, the ‘prodigal’ is out there somewhere, living it up, spending all he has.
Who goes in search of him?
Broken and broke, he returns home, prepared to spend the rest of his life as a ‘hired hand’ to his father and brother.
The father runs out to meet him when he sees his son from a long way off…
…but he hadn’t gone in search of the prodigal.
There is great rejoicing – as in the other two stories. He’s given the best robe (probably his father’s), a ring, and sandals. A party is thrown and everyone invited. They kill the fatted calf for this shindig.
It’s a big deal!
Hey, wait! Wasn’t the father’s inheritance split between his two sons (Luke 15:12)?
So, whose robe, ring, and sandals was the younger son wearing?
The older son’s. They were eating his cow, too! (See verse 31) When he found out, he was turned inside out with anger.
Now the search ensues.
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore the father came out and pleaded with him.” (verse 28)
Father went in search…not of the “bad” son, but of the “good” one.
If this family is to survive, the older son has some work to do.
It has to begin with his own heart.
He will need to take stock of his attitude of self-righteousness, realize that his motives in doing all he had were not pure – at least the younger son was honest about his feelings – and to see his own sin in all this.
He would rather point to his brother’s sin and carry on about what this ‘bum’ deserves. He actually owes a debt of gratitude…
…little brother made him look pretty good!
But out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…and there isn’t a shred of grace, mercy, or love in his words.
If his heart isn’t too hard, once he faces its ugliness, the tough work of forgiving must begin if they are to live ‘happily ever after.’
Further, the older brother must come to terms with the fact that his sibling’s acting out will cost him.
It’s already cost him a robe, ring, shoes, and a big party. These all came out of his pocket.
Beyond that, little bro came home flat broke. He spent everything he had on “riotous” living. He’s already had his fun; now he’s come home completely spent.
All he offers is his broken, penitent heart. It’s all he has left.
He will need to be supported, for everything now belongs to the eldest. They will have to learn to work together. That’s a lot to ask of the older brother.
This will only be possible through forgiveness.
Then, and only then, can the big brother walk in freedom from bitterness, anger, and resentment.
The choice is his.
The sad truth is that when we are related to a ‘prodigal’ son, their sin will cost us – things that can seldom be tallied on a spreadsheet: embarrassment, humiliation, dignity, self-respect, and lost years.
Getting to forgiveness is a process, and will take time.
The cost of refusing to forgive is far greater, though. We will become bitter, resentful old people whom everyone avoids…lonely. We cut ourselves off, not only from others, but from our Father Himself.
That never goes well.
What is being asked of us will twist our minds every which way. It’s not fair! This is not my fault!
Forgiveness feels just plain wrong!!!
Why should our younger brother get off ‘scott-free’ – while we foot the bill for their actions?
And yet, is this not what our Big Brother did for us? Can we not pass on the grace which we so freely received?
We must, especially when we consider how much more we have to lose by hanging on to unforgiveness.
Do we really want to pay the high price of bitterness because of another’s sin against us?
I certainly don’t…but I haven’t “arrived” yet!
I want to, though. Lord, teach me to walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
As you can see, the prodigal’s story contained some surprises for me. Hopefully it did for you as well.
Whooee! This year is certainly starting off with a bang!!