Sunday, January 18, 2015

Slave or Son?

The younger son demands his inheritance, squanders it in self-indulgence, comes to his senses and plans to get back home to start out as a slave, hoping eventually, to earn his way back to sonship. His father, sees him coming, runs to greet him with kisses, prepares a feast and celebrates the return of his son. As the pastor said this morning, that would have been a good ending. The Father welcomes the prodigal back and forgives him, never punishing or rebuking him. We see the amazing love of the heart of our heavenly Father.

But Jesus, the story teller, doesn't end it there. The elder brother is angry at the festivities, claiming his father never threw a party like this for him and his friends, even though this son has worked very hard for his dad. His dad goes to him and asks him to come to the party.And then the story ends.  What happened?  Did the elder son ever resolve his resentment? Was he reconciled to his dad and brother?

Some new thoughts from our speaker on this very familiar story gave me new insight. Both sons dishonored their father, one squandering his wealth, the other working hard to gain his favor. In the culture of Jesus' day, a son who would have left with the family inheritance to throw it all away, would never have been allowed to come back home as a son. In fact, if he would have, the neighborhood would have gathered to perform a ritual of breaking pots declaring he was no longer a son. That traditional welcome never happened in our story because his father was watching for him. Because of how cities were laid out, there was little available view to watch approaching traffic so the dad would have had to be outside the city when he saw his son coming. When he met him there the father escorted his son to home, protecting him from a disgraceful entry. 

What a beautiful picture of our Heavenly Father's love for the wayward and his huge heart of forgiveness and acceptance just because we belong to him, to his family! While the Father speaks no rebuke, the son will not have his inheritance back, but he will have the privilege of living loved as a son.

The older brother has a slave mentality, dishonoring his father also, by working for his acceptance, not enjoying his sonship and relationship with his dad. He feels slighted by never having had a party for him and his friends, when he had access to everything his father had. In that culture the oldest son received 2/3 of an inheritance, so he had the honored place in the family. But he couldn't realize what he already had because he was trying to receive his father's acceptance by his hard work and performance. Much like a slave he was working for his dad when his dad most wanted relationship with him. By depending on his own efforts to get acceptance, he was resentful of the brother who blew it, yet had totally been restored. He brings shame on his father by not going to the party.

Jesus doesn't tell what happened to the elder brother.  As the pastor said, Jesus left it as an invitation to the self-righteous religious ones listening to him.  What would they do with that story? Would they see that they were the chosen ones of the Father who longed to love them as sons?  That their self efforts to please him only kept them in a position of slavery?

God's heart in this story is saying my love is longing for all of you. I'll forgive the sinners and restore them to the family; I'll release you religious ones from the slave driver of self righteousness and love you with my Father's love that freely gives you all you could ever need or want.

Thank you, thank you, Father, that being your daughter means I'm loved, not because of what I do for you, but because Jesus, my elder brother,  made it possible for me to be in relationship with you as my Daddy. Forgive me for times I'm slaving away for you, when you're waiting for me at the party.  When I think I have to earn my way back to your grace, but in fact, you've already covered me with your robe, given me total forgiveness and acceptance and put shoes on my feet.  Slaves don't get to wear shoes.  I'm your daughter and I do. 

I love you, Father! Help me to share this good news with sinners and righteous stuck in slavery. To tell them that your love covers a multitude of sins and all you have is ours in Christ Jesus.