I have always loved the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It simply starts out with "There was a man who had two sons." I remember mostly hearing the story with the focus on the younger prodigal son. But the story is about two sons and there are lessons to be learned from both.
The younger son approached his dad, asking for his portion of his inheritance so that he could leave. The oldest son in those day would be given a double portion, meaning the younger son would receive a third of his father's property. The father complied and the younger son packed up and left for a far away country where he squandered his money, spending it all on immoral, reckless living. He didn't make poor decisions or lose it in business deals, he simply wasted it on things he thought would bring him fleshly pleasure. As a result, he experienced poverty for the first time. Soon a famine hit the land making it impossible to get food. He eventually got a job feeding pigs, which would have been a shameful position as a Jew. It was a stinky dirty job that seemed to reflect his spiritual state.
As food became more scarce, he experienced gnawing hunger and began to eat the slop he fed the pigs. I can't help but wonder if it was then that he began to miss the lovingkindness of his dad who so faithfully met his needs. Could it be that rebellion tends to lead people away from what their hearts most want? In the midst of slurping down slop not fit for humans, he realized his father's servants were eating better than him. So, he headed home, rehearsing the confession he would make, hoping to be hired as a servant. Little did he know his father was constantly scanning the horizon, hoping to see him. And when he spotted his son, the father ran which was something dignified men didn't do. The father grabbed his son and held him in a tight embrace. When I think of that scene, I think of what my son smelled like when he came home from the pig barns with the stench of pig wafting across the room. The love of that father entered into the messy, stinky life of his son.
I can so relate to the younger son. The Word tells me while I was still in my sin, Christ loved me and died for me. That means God loved me with the stench of my sin still on me--the stench of pride, of lust, of selfishness, of self-centeredness, of an independent heart that often chose to quietly do life apart from Him, and of trying to fill this God-craving hunger with worldly things. Yeah, I can relate to him. I wish I couldn't, but I can.
In response to the son's confession, the father calls his servants to bring a robe, a ring, and shoes. These are not the clothes of a servant, they are the clothing of a chosen son! He has servants prepare a banquet to celebrate the son who was lost , but no has been found, the son who was dead, but who is now relationally alive. This father reflects Our Abba! Some of us for a variety of reasons walked away from God and His fold after having made declarations of faith. Maybe we were wounded by legalism or by people in the church. Maybe we simply rebelled, wanting something more. Maybe we slipped so gradually into sin that shame sent us running from God and His people lest they find out. We may at some time have believed the stench of what we have done could never be cleaned. But this parable tells us the Abba is always scanning the horizon for prodigals and He runs at the first sight of their return. And no matter how deeply the stench has been ground into our pours, God embraces us and clothes us in the clothes of His chosen. God knows we must come to the end of ourselves to recognize Him as the perfect Redeemer, Restorer, Reconciler, Healer, our Satisfaction, and Father.
The other brother who came in from the fields to see the celebration taking place. A servant informed him that the celebration was in honor of the prodigal who had came home. The older son became angry and refused to go in. The first time I read this parable, I thought his anger was a protective anger toward his father who had been hurt by the child that left home in a manor that stated he considered his father dead to him. But when the father came out and talked to the older son, we see the state of the older son's heart. He was angry because the son who left and squandered the inheritance in an immoral lifestyle was being celebrated and while he who had remained wasn't.
The older son's attitude makes me uncomfortable, because I see me in him and can relate to his judgments. I wish didn't but I do. There have been times I've worked hard and was not noticed, only to have someone new come along and get praised for one project. I resented it a lot. I also used to pride myself on being nonjudgmental, but a sweet lady once told told me that we all make judgments every da and sometimes judgments help us make good decisions and sometimes they are sinful.
I was uncomfortable with her statement, so I paid close attention to the thoughts that ran through my head for a few weeks and she was right. I made judgments about food as I classified it as either good or bad instead of thanking God for His provision. I made judgments about the hearts and the worth of others based on the clothing they wore. I judged myself harshly for having normal feelings and being human instead of perfect. I judged a parent by how she handled her kids in public and was convicted because at one time I was a mom of five littles and knew they could be perfectly behaved one day and then the next day I was red-faced, paying for chocolate bar snatched by little hands when I wasn't looking, I judged a homeless person without knowing his story, not even giving him the dignity of a smile or eye contact every human craves. I judged someone's words without letting them finish their thoughts, something I hate when its done to me. It grieved my heart to find there was a whole lot more Pharisee in me than I thought. But facing this truth humbled me and helped me come to grips with the truth that not all prodigals run physically, some of us run even in the staying. It helped me realize how desperately we (me in particular) need God's mercy and grace.
I also realized I often chose churches because people in them looked like me. Around the time I had the above conversation with my friend, a therapist suggested I find a support group for eating disorders and there wasn't one in my community. She referred me to a ministry for those struggling with addictions and codependency. When I first walked in, judgments were screaming in my head. I wanted to run, but didn't. There I heard stories that melted my prideful heart, allowing God to fill it with compassion and love. There I saw hardened hearts softened and people extending grace while holding each other accountable in such a beautifully balanced ways. I shared my story one night and there were sniffles, the loudest being among the biggest burliest guys, who had originally scared me. I grew to love them because they were so honest, transparent, and hungry for God.
There I realized the years I had spent in church, I had been trying to earn God's love and to cover up my sinful parts and my judgmental heart. I loved the recovery group because it was there I realized God's love was freely given. There was nothing I could do to earn it and nothing I could do to lose it. The fleshly business of trying to earn love was put to death. I also bumped into a friend there who introduced me to her sister, who was covered in tattoos. At first I judged her, but over time I came to love this gal and her big heart and even got a small tatt to remind myself not to judge.
When this gal passed away. Her funeral was exactly what I have come to desire all churches to be, and what I imagine heaven already is--a mixture of people from all walks of life. A place where addicts sit next to the "church people who appear to have it all together." A place where the poor are seated among the rich. A place where the tattooed are sprinkled among the conservatively dressed. A place where those with nose rings and piercings are scattered among those with traditional jewelry. A place where the wounded are actually tended to, a place where the vulnerable find safety, a place where differences are celebrated, and a place where every prodigal is restored and rejoiced over. At that crowded funeral filled with prodigals we had one thing in common, our friend and when a song was sung all of our eyes were leaking for the one who had overcome big, big stuff and who had loved so big. To me, the people at her funeral represent the death of the conflict between prodigals and pharisaical siblings.
For me, moving past judgment took my recognizing my own desire to be loved, acknowledged, and accepted was something written on my heart by my Creator and then accepting that God Himself has lavishly and consistently met those needs through Christ! When I rest in this truth I don't tend to wander like the prodigal or sit in judgment like the Pharisaical brother, Instead, I am free to relate to the One who fills my heart with all it needs so I can celebrate those around me.
I came across this today and am familiar with this story. I can identify with your musings of the older son. As I read your thoughts, I can also see areas I need to grow in. I have far to go, but am hopeful because He who began a good work in me will see it through to completion.ReplyDelete