THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 4
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Luke 9:35, 15:1-32
He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
I’ve heard and even preached many sermons on this famous parable of the prodigal son, the forgiving father, or whatever else you might want to call it. Often they end with the conclusion that we often find ourselves in the shoes of the older brother and it is our choice whether to forgive and join the party or to stand outside and wallow in self-pity.
Such a conclusion generally comes on the heals of unpacking the entire story, demonstrating the overwhelming selfishness of the younger son and of course the extravagant, undeserved love and mercy lavished upon him by the father, who of course we should all desire to imitate.
This week, however, I want to begin at the end. Let’s start with the conclusion or assumption that we are the older brother. Yes, many hearing this may still be a long way off with the prodigal, wondering if you can ever be forgiven or loved. I don’t want to invalidate that in any way and as the story teaches, please know that you are always welcome in our Father’s House. Regardless of where we primarily find ourselves in the story in this season of life, however, all of us likely have at least some of the older brother hiding in our hearts.
As the older brother, we look upon that “sinner” who hurt us or our family, or perhaps upon those “sinners” we don’t even know, and our blood boils with anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy, righteous indignation, insecurity, and countless other emotions. Rather than simply telling us to “forgive” and join the party, as we might normally do at the end of this story, I’m asking you to pull up a log or a rock and sit outside with me for awhile as the party gets underway.
As we sit and reflect, angered by the sounds of undeserved jubilation inside, what is really bothering us?
Who are we really mad at?
Are we truly angry at that brother of ours who seems to get away with everything?
Especially if that “brother” is some abstract “sinner” or “group of sinners”, what have they actually done against us? Does their forgiveness in any way negate our own? Is there somehow not enough mercy or grace leftover for us if they get what may seem like an extra dose?
Are we angry with the father?
Of course we would never admit this, especially as “good Christians”. We don’t want to be angry with God. Maybe we feel like we can’t be angry with God. But the question remains… are we angry with the Father? Do we feel like God is being too lenient or unfair. Are we jealous because there is something more we wanted from the Father ourselves?
Are we angry with ourselves?
Do we wish we had gotten to enjoy that rebellious season like our brother, just to know what it felt like? Do we regret not having appreciated the love the Father has truly given us all along? Are we mad because we never bothered to tell the father how we felt, like servants in our own house, and allowed him to remind us of our beloved place as sons and daughters?
Before pick up our “good, responsible big brother” mantle again and trudge resentfully into the party, let’s take some time to ask, what is it that really bothers me about this story? What is keeping me from truly offering forgiveness to my brothers and sisters, whether I know them or not? Why must I keep seeing them as “sinners” instead of “siblings”, loved by the same father who loves me?