Jesus was surrounded by tax collectors and sinners, enjoying a meal. The religious leaders and the educated elite questioned and judged his behavior. How did Jesus respond to the questions? With stories.
His response had a way of revealing the heart of men and exposing their self-serving agendas and mindsets. One particular story begins in Luke 15:11.
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
This story paints such a good picture of the relationship between a faithful Father and a wayward son. This kind of family relationship is slowly disappearing in our culture. It desperately needs to be revived and restored.
One question that I have had is this: why is Luke’s gospel the one that God chose to use to tell us the story of a Dad and two sons when Luke was a physician and a gentile? Was there something special about Luke that made him understand the relationship between a Father and son? Did Luke have sons? Did it have anything to do with his own relationship with Paul. Was it the lack of a strict religious background that allowed him to retell this story with greater accuracy? Whatever the reason, his words hit the mark with me.
In this particular story, many of us will initially identify with the younger son, the wild one who wasn’t satisfied with the mundane but longed for adventure and excitement. He sought it in the only place he knew or could see…in the world. This is certainly familiar in our culture today because we as leaders have done a poor job demonstrating the adventure and excitement found in following a King and His kingdom. As the story continues, it is easy for us to focus on the short-comings and selfishness of this younger boy but one fact is often overlooked. This younger boy knew without a doubt, he was his Father’s son. Because he knew he was a son, he knew he had an inheritance, so he asked for it, boldly. Also we see the younger boy addressing his father as “Father.” When the boy finally came to his senses and realized he was dying with hunger, he knew his Father would give him something to eat. Throughout the story, the boy never stopped calling him Father, even when he was face to face confessing his own wrong doing. No matter the cost, this boy knew who his father was and he needed to be back close to his father, safe under his loving care. Even though the boy expected nothing, he received everything! Sound familiar?
So what about the older brother? Here is the scene: It is late in the day, he is returning home, tired and sweaty from a laborious day in his father’s field. Suddenly, the appetizing aroma of barbecue fills his nostrils.
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.’
The sound of singing and dancing and jubilation stirs his curious nature. Enter stage left, jealousy, offense and resentment as he hears of the kindness and forgiveness shown to his undeserving younger brother. The older weighs his own service and sacrifice against that of his wayward brother. He actually determines by his own obedience that he deserves to be rewarded for his many years of dedication. Let’s not forget, the father has already divided his wealth between both boys.
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!’
Notice too, the older doesn’t address his father as Father. As well, all the older expects is a young goat, never ever dreaming of such extravagance as a fatted calf, and ring and brand new sandals. Sadly, this older brother only wanted to celebrate with his own circle of friends. What a contrast. The Father’s celebration of his lost son returned home included everyone. Now that is a party!
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.’
So what is going on here? An orphan on the street doesn’t know the unconditional love of a faithful Father. An orphan has to scam and scrap everyday just to survive. An orphan hoards and protects because he doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. An orphan trusts no one. An orphan judges everyone. Out of hardship and lack, an orphan feels entitled. A orphan always lives with a sense of abandonment and fear. Orphans wear a mask. An orphan has never experienced the continual support and presence of a loving Father.
The good news for the orphan is this:
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)
A true son never loses sight of his Father. A son never questions his own identity as a son. A son is not threatened by others. A son has no problem opening up the refrigerator and eating whatever he finds. A son shares everything because he knows there will always be enough. A son is not afraid to fail. A son knows the character of his Dad, admiring Him, trusting Him, respectfully and lovingly addressing Him as Father. A son knows he is forgiven. A son knows how to receive good gifts. A son knows he is celebrated. A son knows how to celebrate others. A son knows all that his Father has, he has. A son knows his Father is always with him, always for him, never gives up on him and always, always wants the very best for his son. A son knows his Father will sacrifice everything for him. Above all, a son knows he is loved!
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)
Life can be messy. Church life can be messy. Becoming a son or daughter is the greatest gift and blessing we will ever experience. Whatever difficulties you may be facing, whatever challenges or disillusionment you might be experiencing…start here first. Start with this. Learn what it means to be a son or a daughter and then live it out. Learn from this story Jesus is telling. Learn together and then go and teach everyone around you how to live it out. And suddenly, surprisingly your life will take on great significance followed by overwhelming joy and satisfaction.
So I give to you a Father’s blessing. I remind you that you are one of a kind, special and unique in your Father’s eyes. You are beautiful. You are his perfect idea. He loves everything about you because He created you. He brings purpose and meaning to your life. Your life matters to Him and to us. You have gifts and talents that nobody else has and we need you so much. Above all, your Father loves and adores you!