Friday, December 27, 2013

The Parable of the Sower: The Cost of Being a Kernel

Let's picture the scene.  Jesus leaves the house and makes His way to the seaside. The multitudes, eager to hear Him, become so numerous that He must get into a boat, and make it His pulpit.  Then He starts teaching.

What is remarkable is what went on before this parable. Going back a few chapters, we see Him:
1.  Harvesting grain with His disciples, because they were hungry, and being accused by the Pharisees of breaking the law about no work.  He then reminds them of what King David did--eating the consecrated bread--and how the priests break the law by doing the sacrifices and yet are innocent.  He reminds them that mercy, not a blind adherence to the Law, is what God desires and then proclaims Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath.   (Matt.12:1-8)
2. He then enters a synagogue, where Sabbath services are in full swing, and heals a man with a shriveled hand.  He reminds the leaders that in doing good on the Sabbath, the Law is not broken.  The Pharisees are so livid that they "plotted how they might kill Jesus." (Matt. 12:9-14)
3.  He withdraws from that place and heals the sick and thus fulfills Isaiah's words about God's Chosen Servant, Who will bring hope to all. (Matt. 12:18-21)
4.  He then heals a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees attribute His power to the Devil.  Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that attributing the work of His Father to Satan will never be forgiven.  He then talks of how a tree's fruit indicates what kind of tree it is.  He then excoriates them for their evil hearts and that their very words have condemned them. (Matt. 12: 33-37).
5.  In response to the Pharisees wanting a sign, Jesus offers the ultimate one:  like Jonah, He will be held in the darkness of the earth for three days and then He will reappear.  He talks of how utterly unwise this generation is and how they have provided a habitation, in their thoughts and actions, for evil.
6.  His mother and brothers show up and want to speak to Him.  In the heated exchange with the religious leaders, has His family detected some danger and do they wish to whisk Him away from the leaders' menacing gazes?  He gently reminds them and His disciples that doing the will of His Father constitutes His family.

So, now, (no coincidence here) that He tells the parable of the sower to the waiting crowd, and in His mind, He surveys all the different people who have been listening to Him recently.

"Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:3-9)

What's interesting here is, later, with the disciples eagerly inquiring of Him, He explains the meaning: "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Matt. 13:18-23).

We could stop here, but Jesus isn't talking in general terms.  The disciples have already seen the various "soils" in action.  The sower is God and the seed is His word.  Notice, He casts it far and wide.  Now, does a sower throw the seed just anywhere?  No.  He is going to throw it upon tilled soil, prepared and ready.  He doesn't cast His seed on stones, on concrete or on a lake.  He casts it on the soil of human hearts prepared by the tillage of the Holy Spirit.  Now, the disciples just experienced watching the first instance of where the seed falls--on the hearts of the Pharisees who are so hardened in their hearts that they attribute God's miracles to Satan.  The Holy Spirit tills, but the rocks of pride, the drying sun of hatred and the eroding rains of judgment have rendered the soil unfit to receive the words of the Almighty, spoken through His Son.

The ones with shallow hearts, will receive the word with joy, but later will fall away because of temptation.   The disciples just experienced this with the healings.  They saw how the people rejoiced when the man's hand was healed and how eager the people were to follow Jesus.  But when the fear of disapproval, the disdainful gaze of the leaders fell upon the people, did they turn away?    When Jesus' own family showed up, rejoicing earlier over the wonderful things He was doing, but now afraid that He was attracting the wrong kind of attention, did they, too, lose heart in Him and His ministry?

The leaders and many of the richer people, whose lives directly benefited from the way things were, did Jesus threaten their status with His kingdom built on love?  Did they wither away, leaving smaller and smaller fruits behind?  Was their place in society more important than Truth?

Jesus scanned the crowd as they sat on the shore.  He could see into the hearts of those whose soil, tilled like all the others, were willing to receive the "word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Matt. 13:18-23).  Ah, there it is:  a soil tilled by the Spirit, watered with the rains of sincerity and seeking, warmed by the belief that here stands the very One of Whom their prophets heralded would come.  Even after they felt the scorching heat of others' disapproval, they were willing to grow in the knowledge of Him and the One He sent.   

He must have smiled, seeing His disciples whose soil would produce a crop whose very seeds we would harvest, and those sincere followers whose love for Him would never fail.

But He also knew the price that is paid when a seed, a kernel, falls on the soil:  "Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.'" (John 12:23-26).  The price they would pay, we will pay, is enormous.  His death will bring us life, and His blood will water the soil.  We will be His witnesses to His work in the soil of our hearts.  

Cast the seed of His word.  Trust the Sower to go before you and pray for a harvest.  He did no less.  We can do no more.

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

O Holy Night! Yes and So Much More...

We are all familiar with the characters that inhabit the Christmas story: Mary, Joseph, the Baby, the Wise Men, the shepherds, and the angels.

Every year, we encounter Nativity scenes...all set up on someone's lawn, staged in familiar poses, pink and blue, plastic and lights. Or we see a Living Nativity...we feel sorry for the folks who are participating in it, knowing how cold we are in our parkas and how cold they must be in their cotton costumes.  Or we receive Christmas cards, with endless variations on the "Mary holding the Baby/Joseph hovering nearby/shepherds in awe/Wise Men with gifts" theme.

We encounter this seasonal scene so often, is it possible that it loses its wondrous quality? Do we smile rather than fall on our knees in utter gratitude for the majesty and message this scene so softly delivers? Have we ceased to hear the angels sing, drowned out in the noise of our modern age?

Come, stand with me. Let's look into the manger with eyes willing to see anew this familiar picture. It is indeed a holy night. But: Everyone who journeys to this manger has something that will challenge them. They will have to give something up…but, oh! on that very night…they will have something to gain!

They give up the safety of their homeland, traveling from Persia to Israel. This is a risky journey. They carry valuable items for the newborn King. They have only a star to follow. What did their compatriots think as they load up and head out? These men have a reputation. These are men of books, stars, and maps. What if they are wrong? They are traveling to a foreign land…Will they be accepted by the people of that land? Will they arrive on the appointed day and time? Will they be able to get in close to the action? They are not Jewish. They are bright guys…wise men… possessing a lot of head knowledge…But they must follow that star! Despite the danger to self and reputation, they must go. Yes, there is a lot to lose, but look at what they will gain!

The hardest journey for these men will be only a distance of 14 inches--from their heads to their hearts. They fall down on their knees once they come near to the Baby King. Any doubts they carry with them are cast into the light coming from His precious face. The very gifts that made their trip so dangerous are now placed at His side. Each gift reflects this Child:

Gold: It is precious beyond measure, and must be burned in fire to purify it. He is precious beyond measure and His excruciating death will purify us from our sins.

Frankincense: It is burned to release a sweet fragrance. His death will release the sweet fragrance of the penalty paid, to be inhaled by all those who believe.

Myrrh: It is an aromatic resin with a slightly bitter taste. It is used for embalming but also for healing. His death will be bitter but His Resurrection will be the healing of our souls.

These men give gifts and yet now into their empty hands are given the greatest gift of all: They look upon the face of God. Their hearts now know God.

They give up watching their sheep momentarily. That is their job, their responsibility. They are in the outskirts of town. They are low in status but they will break through that and go into town, emboldened by the message they hear. They risked scorn and disapproval--Do angels really sing praises out where people like you may hear them? Oh, come on!

But here they come--nothing will stop this excited band of men, whose ears still ring with the heavenly chorus. Their gain? They are going into the manger to witness this Baby. They are trusting God to watch their sheep. He is the God of the big things--like this News and the voices of praising angels! He is also the God of the little things--keeping the flock together while the shepherds seek and find His newborn Son.

A room for an expecting mother? No can do! The town and the inn are so crowded. He is frantically busy. Yet, wait a minute. He is willing to direct the desperate couple to a cave where it is quiet and out of the wind. He takes a moment to look into the eyes of this soon-to-be father and remembers the day when his son entered the earth. He is willing to take extra moments to direct the couple to the cave, so that they will not be disturbed.

He was willing to help, even if he couldn't do something monumental. A small kindly offered favor drew a mighty blessing from the Most High.

He had to give up his fear or at least, not allow it to paralyze him. Has Mary betrayed him? Is she lying to him? He is wounded by the possibility of her infidelity…doubt, anger, consternation, and hurt all swirl in his heart, wounding him over and over. As a craftsman, whose reputation in the community keeps his trade alive, will it be done in by whispering? What will others think? He feels such shame for Mary and his hearts seizes up when he ponders the consequence of her actions: death. All these questions and more challenge him to the very marrow of his bones.

Yet, he will hear the voice of God as he sleeps and will rise out of his slumber a determined man--he will provide for Mary.  He will gain a walk...not just any walk, but one beside the Son of God. He will raise the Boy, teach him to hew wood, and to cut stone. Someday this very Child will hang from a wooden cross and lie behind a large stone. But Death will not hold Him for long. Joseph cannot see what the future holds, but he knows Who holds the future.

She gives up her reputation. She will give up peace. Her sense of what is normal will be replaced with a fear of husband’s distrust or reprisal, of public humiliation, of even death.

But she will gain the smile of God. She will nourish the Son of God Who will someday nourish her. She will comfort Him when He cries and she will comforted by Him, even as He hangs on a cross and gives her a new son to care for her. She will treasure much in her heart, to sustain her in the days when she cannot understand Him, and when she must stand beneath His cross. But her greatest treasure will be when she beholds Him once more: glorified and radiant on that future Sunday morning.

Is that the end of story? Has the gentle Christmas card scene prevailed?  No. The three Wise Men will leave Bethlehem, hearing of the butchery by King Herod. They will hear of the order to slaughter all male children under the age of two to root out this future King. In their grief, they will cling to the promise of "Peace on earth, good will to men."

Joseph and Mary will leave to Egypt, far away from everyone, to avoid the coming slaughter. It is not their Lamb's time yet. They will long to return home someday. In the future, when they hear of Herod's death, their joy will turn once again to fear as they learn of Herod's son on the throne. They must go and settle in yet another village. Do they ever stop looking over their shoulders while Jesus is small? Will evil men come for Him to take Him to His death? Not for now. But someday, He will go willingly. His cross is our gain.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Coin: DON'T MOVE! I've Lost My __!

     Fill in the blank:  it could be your contact, your iPhone, your keys or your mind, for that matter!  Has anyone ever said this to you?  Have you ever had said this to anyone?  The world you live in skids to a halt when you have lost something.  Now, is that something just any ol' thing?  Not usually.  The sound of screeching brakes occurs when you lose something valuable.  Now, the two parables in Luke 15 that we have explored--the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep--are spoken by Jesus in this setting: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”  The NIV Study Bible says that when you eat with people, you are recognizing them and accepting them.  This is the reason for the muttering--Jesus is acknowledging the very people that the Pharisees and teachers disdain.  What's interesting is that Jesus shares three parables with a common theme:  something/someone valuable is lost, then found and then celebrated over.  We have looked at the sheep and the son--let's finish up with the coin.
     How often do we not value something until it is lost?  To quote an old 60's song: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."  So true.  But valuing goes both ways:  Our prodigal son didn't value his father's love until he was eating pig food.  But the father valued his son immensely and waited patiently until the son returned.  The older brother in the parable didn't value his younger brother nor his father's love. But the father valued the older son and made everything he had available to the older son.
     The shepherd with the lost sheep valued it and was willing to leave the other ninety-nine to find the one.  He then returned to the town and wanted the people to rejoice with him.  Seeing the joy in the shepherd's face perhaps made them go home and look with renewed joy in what they had.  Sometimes, others' loss reminds us of what we have and how we should value it.
     Let's look at our lady who lost her coin: “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

     The floors of ordinary people in Israel in Jesus' day were made of dirt.  People with money had flagstones.  The windows were few and light was minimal.  Finding a coin would not be an easy task.  So, let's see what our lady is doing... I want to make sure that my money hasn't gone missing.  There are thieves out there who want to steal what I have.  Each coin is worth day's wage and one less coin means a day's work for nothing.  I will pull out the coins from their hiding place--I will never tell where they are!--and I will sit at the table and start counting...what?  Is that neighbor's dog barking again?  Wait a minute!  Don't move!  I have lost a coin!  Did I drop it?  When I was pouring the coins out onto the table just now, did one roll off?  Oh no!  Wait, calm down.  I can't see it!  The light is terrible in here.  Let me get the lamp and start hunting.  Oh, the floor hurts my knees.  But I bound and determined to find it...
     Do you see it?  Each coin is as valuable to the woman as the next, because each coin represents a day's labor.  How did it fall to the floor?  Does it really matter now that the coin is lost?  Her concern is not because she miserly--it's because each coin represents her blood, sweat and tears and she worked hard for each coin.  Now, once she calms down, she has a plan of action:  light a lamp and start sweeping.  Two ingredients are needed here for the search and the ultimate restoration:  light and cleaning away of dirt.  
     Jesus Himself is the Plan of Action:  He is the Light we need to see our way in the darkness.  He calls Himself "The Light of the World," implying that the our earthly room is dark and needs illumination.  But with light comes revelation of just how dark the world is, how covered in dirt it is.  Here He "sweeps," looking for each valued person, who struggles in the dirt of sin and pain.  He searches for us, "carefully" as does our lady.  He looks in every corner, desiring to return us to the safety of His keeping.  Satan is a thief who desires to steal us away.  Each one of us is valued.  How do we know this?  We were "bought with a price."  Jesus Himself did a day's labor on the cross, paying once and for all for our freedom, not because we are so good and wonderful, but because He values us.  
     A coin has value because a government assigns an amount to it.  Jesus' death is the ultimate assigning of value to you and me:  He paid our debt of sin with His life and will continue to search for us until we return His Father's kingdom.  
     The heavens resound when a sinner comes home.  Jesus doesn't give up on us...nor did our lady.  She kept searching until she found it.  She didn't jingle the money bag and just focus on the ones already in her possession, ignoring the one over by the chair in the dirt.  Both are important:  the ones in the bag and the ones in the dirt.
      Remember the muttering religious leaders listening to Jesus?  Jesus is saying that all of His Father's children are important.  The ones in the "bag" need to rediscover their compassion for the ones in the "dirt."   Why?  Because you, religious leaders, are valued.  You are not valued for how good you are at church.  You are not valued for how much you tithe.  You are not valued for how much you obey the rules.  You have been assigned value by the One who "minted" you.  His image is stamped on each of you and on each of them...yes, even those "sinners" over there.    
      What about those "sinners" listening to Jesus as well?  Jesus is saying that when He reaches down and offers to lift you out of the dirt, don't roll further under the chair.   Accept His offer of restoration.  Allow Him to cleanse you of that dirt and when you join the others in the bag, rejoice and don't shrink away into a corner.  
     Finally, notice how the woman celebrates her finding of the coin.  All of her friends and neighbors are invited in to join her!  Heaven rejoices when one sinner is found, because that person realizes that lying in the dirt of life is not what a loving God would have us do.  

     The kingdom's doors swing wide open when we realize who we are--sinners.  

       We hear the songs of angels when we accept Who He is--our Savior.  

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep: Have You Lost Something? Yup, and He's Looking to Find It!

     It's always important to understand the context for Jesus' parables.  Who is He addressing?  What questions/issues is He addressing?  This next parable we will examine is the one of the Lost Sheep from Luke, Chapter 15.   
     Let's set the scene:  "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'"  Stop right there.  Jesus is a fascinating and yet irritating presence to the religious leaders.  They watch in horror as the low-lifes of their community flock to Him and listen to His words that seem to be cool water in a dry land.  
     They can't fathom why a rabbi would associate so freely with people who are so obviously disgusting to them and, must be to God, too.  They are probably thinking, We strive everyday, God, to be good.  We do all of the rituals You require and we even go above and beyond that.  We work for You!  Do You notice, God?  Are You aware, with all due respect, of how much we strive?  And then comes this hayseed from Nazareth, who seems to gather, without effort, those whom You despise.  He seems comfortable with them--their smelly clothes, their dirty faces and their despicable habits.  They seem to love Him.  Love?  You want order, respect and obedience.  Love?  We don't want it; why would You?
     What are the people thinking?  We try every day, dear God, to be good.  We tithe from what little we have and yet, in the faces of the leaders, we see nothing but scorn.  No matter how much we strive, we see the utter disgust in their faces.  We know we are so unworthy to even call upon Your Name.  You seem so distant; but this Jesus seems to bring You so close, we can almost hear Your voice.  He doesn't notice our dirty clothes and ragged faces; we know we are not pleasant to be around--the leaders have made that plain enough.  And yet, when we look into His face, we see kindness, openness, and a sense that You do care for us, warts and all.  Yes, our hands are dirty, but this Jesus is willing to clasp them and look in our eyes.  We feel the scorn burning into our backs from the eyes of the leaders; so we just keep our gaze on His face...are we seeing Your face, dear God, as well? 
     Then Jesus begins:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
     Everyone listening knew about sheep and how, if not shepherded, the sheep will wander.  How often did an errant sheep wander into town, because some shepherd's afternoon nap went on a bit long?  How often did a panicky shepherd come running into town, asking the townspeople if they had seen his sheep?   So, everyone could understand the wandering of a sheep and the fretful reaction of the shepherd.  Isn't interesting, though, instead of talking about a shepherd out there, Jesus brings His audience into the story:  "Suppose one of you..."  You, Mr. Obstinate Pharisee and you, Mr. Tax Collector, and yes, you, Mrs. Poor Woman.  Everyone is invited to imagine themselves in the place of the shepherd.  
    Now, Jesus poses a question...a shepherd doesn't just fret over the sheep; what is he going to do?  Go out and find it!  He will not rest until he does.  The other ninety-nine are safe in the flock, but the wandering one is subject to all kinds of dangers--wolves, falling into a many times had one of the townsfolk come across a sheep whose shepherd had not been able to find it, and now its body was rotting in the sun?   Everyone could picture the shepherd searching high and low for the sheep, having left the care of the other sheep to the other shepherds.  He is focused on finding the one sheep...why?
     Because each sheep is valuable.  There is safety in numbers, but not value in numbers.  Each sheep is as valuable as the next.  No one sheep is inherently more precious than another.  The shepherd knows each sheep and cares for each sheep's welfare.  The shepherd doesn't say, Hey!  I still have the well-behaved ninety-nine.  They are staying in the flock, obediently grazing where I have told them to.  What's one missing?  Next spring, there will be more lambs to replace it...No big deal.
     Our shepherd finds the sheep and puts it on his shoulder--"joyfully."  He doesn't chide it, yell at it or condemn it for wandering away (Do you notice that, Pharisees?  Do you catch that, everyone?)  Yes, it is always preferable to stay obediently in the flock, following the  shepherd's direction.  But, what if someone wanders away?  What if YOU wander away?  Would YOU want to be yelled at?  Would YOU want to experience scornful looks and judgement about how stupid you are for wandering away?  Wouldn't YOU want a joyful Shepherd scooping you up, placing you on His shoulders and triumphantly marching into town to tell everyone of your rescue?  
     Doesn't the sheep know already of its inadequacies?  The burrs in its wool, the scratches on its legs are reminders enough of how wandering off is not wise.  The "tax collectors and sinners" are all too aware of how wandering off is not pleasant--no one has to remind them of that--their hearts condemn them enough.  
     The flock is content...perhaps too content.  It's those who wander off that need God the most and feel His loving balm the most when they are recaptured by His love.  Heaven rejoices!  Why?  Because the sheep knew it had strayed and is willing to come home with the shepherd and be restored to the flock.  
     Jesus looks at the listeners.  Many of them have heads lowered, knowing that they have wandered from the Shepherd of their souls.  Yet, in their troubled spirits, hope flutters--I can be forgiven and Heaven is rejoicing as I do!  
     Many of them are looking at Him, flummoxed.  I am in the flock, obedient, and yet I am not in love with the Shepherd, only with my own goodness.   Do I need to come home too?
      Jesus' eyes scan the crowd.  Are you willing to come home?  Will you join Heaven and rejoice as others do as well?  
     The Shepherd will never stop looking for His wandering sheep.   

Jesus will press on with the next two parables--the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son, driving home the point of God values each one of us.  His love extends forgiveness to each one of we extend it to each other as well? 

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Parable of Persistent Widow: Keep Knocking on Heaven's Door!

Here's our next parable from Luke 18:1-8:  

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

     Let's set the scene.  We have a less than sterling judge and a widow who is in desperate need of a judgment against an "adversary."  The two people are neighbors and probably so is the adversary--so it's a case of "You can run but you cannot hide."  How often does the widow see the judge walking to his office?  How often does the widow catch a glimpse of her foe, ducking into a store or staring at her from over the bread counter at the supermarket?  These people interact everyday at some level, and because of this, the widow feels desperation...her foe is a constant reminder of the injustice she has suffered.  Do we know what the injustice actually is?  Does it matter?  She wants justice, plain and simple.
     The judge is probably the only judge in this small town.  Jesus gives him a quick personality sketch--he doesn't care about what God or others think.  Uh-oh.  In a small town, with religion permeating every nook and cranny of the people's existence, this judge would stand out.  He obviously has said words to that effect or has behaved in such a way that people know what he is like.  He may the guy that everyone loves to hate--but what are the people going to do?  He's the only one in town who can dispense justice.
     The widow knows about his reputation but also knows she stuck with him.  Her personality is one of persistence:  she keeps coming to him and requesting that he hear her plea.  She won't give up and is so persistent that the judge fears that if he doesn't act soon, she will attack him!  He could care less about God and man, yet this widow's tenacity keeps him awake at night!  Why is that?  Could it be that deep down inside, he knows he needs to do the right thing and hear her case and make a ruling?  He probably knows her adversary as well, and as long as the judge delays, this adversary is walking the streets, sneering at a system that doesn't stop him.  So, these three characters are in a desperate dance, which could be quelled in a New York minute with a pronouncement from the judge.  
     The judge must act, if not to uphold the law but to protect himself from this widow!  The widow must act and pursue the judge so she can be protected by the law!  The adversary lurks in the town, awaiting judgement, glad of his freedom but having to always look over his shoulder!
     Jesus then points to the words of the judge.  If someone that unjust, that worried about personal safety and that insensitive about the suffering of others, recognizes the need to act, how much more will our pleas be heard by our loving Heavenly Judge?  Was Jesus in essence saying that perhaps (although they would never admit this) the disciples saw God as that judge in the story?  Were they entertaining the belief that God really didn't care, that He is insensitive to our suffering and is way too concerned about how we behave towards Him, without any thought as to how He acts towards us?  Uh-oh.  In other words, are we the widow and God is the judge?  Of course, we know who the "adversary" is, and how relentless he is in condemning us.
     So, Jesus launches this parable under the theme of keep praying and never give up.  Is it our prayers that need fixing?  We pray for those who hurt, who are desperate, who are suffering, who are causing misery in others' that what Jesus is evaluating?  I think not.  I think He is asking us to reevaluate who we think God is.  He compares God's personality to that of the judge's...
1.  God hears our cries.  He doesn't ignore us or avoid us.  He is actively engaged in our lives, not shirking His responsibility to His own.
2.  God will not delay justice.  He knows what we need and what the cries of our heart are.  He is not delaying justice--He is working to bring it about.  His timing is not our own.  We need to trust His timing.
3.  God wants justice in the world.  Sin was not His design, and the consequences of sin have rendered His creation chock full of chaos, pain and evil.  He is all too aware of this, and He is in the process of remedying it.  How?  Who is telling the parable?  It's Jesus:  The very One that the Almighty Judge has sent down, to pay the penalty Himself, on a cross that waits for Him up the road a ways.  Justice will be handed down, upon the shoulders of the One who now stands before the disciples.  The Judge, will in essence, offer Himself to render justice and set us free.  His stripes will heal us and render the adversary living on borrowed time.
4.  God wants us to be persistent and walking in faith each day.  The time is coming when the judgement will be handed down.  Will we have already left the courtroom in despair, or will we be knocking on Heaven's door, confident in the knowledge that He is good and kind and just?  When the Son returns, will we still be at our Father's business, or will our hearts have grown cold?
     God want us to be persistent, which is defined as "continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition."  The days will be filled with trial, to be sure, but will we meet the days with despair or determination? 

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Now, in This Corner...Prodigal Sons, Part IV

      Just picture this:  joyful laughter, fine array and the enticing smell of roasting meat.  A bustle of activity, a whirl of preparation...a smiling father, a son beaming in the light of an unburdened soul and soon, all is ready...Except for one thing...the other family member.  "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field."
      He's working.  Doing the right thing, yes, but...when his brother returns, as one from the dead, according to Dad, he is conspicuously absent.  When the father is speaking a blessing over the son, while the servants array the young man in the garments of acceptance, and while the feast preparations are progressing...yes, you guessed it, he is conspicuously absent.  “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing."  
     OK, let's give him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he was way out in the fields, and didn't hear nor see what was taking place.  But, as he wipes his brow, and nears the shed to put away his tools, the happy sounds catch his attention.  "So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in."  Uh-oh.  He is tired, dirty and now angry that this younger brother, whose hurt permeated the house and clung to his father like runaway smoke, now comes back to not to punishment, but to a party.  The older son stands outside, angrier than a wasp caught under a welcome mat. 
     "So his father went out and pleaded with him."  "Plead" is a strong word, and implies that the father's heartfelt request that the older son join them was ignored.  I see the older son staring at his father in stoney silence, so furious that he must measure every word, lest he be disrespectful.  But then the anger and the hurt, long stored away against the younger brother, comes roaring out:  "But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’"
     There it is:  it is really about ME.  I have worked--more than that, I have slaved in those dusty fields!  I have been obedient and I never have parties and I, I, I...
     The older son's focus is on himself and all of the shortcomings of his father's, and all the suffering of the older son's.  Then, with the younger son's appearance, whose character is soiled with cavorting with prostitutes (something I would never do!) and whose profligate spending has landed this family in trouble (I am slaving away in the fields to help you recover the loss of our family's money!) and who gets the best this family has (Hasn't that younger son taken ENOUGH?  I didn't even ask for a goat...You never even offered me a lousy goat!) 
     The older son, while justifiably angry at what the young son did, is really more disgusted at his FATHER, who he perceives as unjust in his treatment of his sons.  The father seemingly rewards the one who is irresponsible and tends to ignore the dutiful one.  But, is that really the case?  
     “‘My son,’ the father said..."  Let's stop there.  The father says, "My son," reminding him that his position in the family is no more or no less important to the father's heart.  Then the father gently reminds him that all the father has is his: "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Why has the older son forgotten this? 
     Each day, as he trudged out to the field, did his heart grow more distant, almost imperceptibly at first, from the father?  Was he spending more time out in the fields than with his father?  But there is so much work to do!  And without that stupid kid to help me!  Doesn't Dad see how much I am working?  Does he even CARE?  Soon, were the older son's actions still dutiful but his heart, hardening under the sin of anger and hurt, rendering him more and more incline to stay away from the father?  Did he secretly blame the father?  If you hadn't given in and given him the money in the first place...The older son's relationship with his father was predicated on DUTY, which the older son, over time, mistook for LOVE.  But love, burdened under a self-imposed list of duties, will become increasingly preoccupied with finishing the duties and now, too tired and resentful, will grow cold.
      The father cuts to the heart of the matter, reminding him that the father is always with him and what the father has is indeed the son's.  The father loves him and this love is not based on the son fulfilling duties.  It is based simply on the bountiful love that the father has for his children.  The father's love simply IS.  But, love must  rejoice!  "'But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”  The father's love is expressed in two beautiful ways here.  First, to the oldest:  I am yours, son, and you are mine.  Just ask.  My love will respond.  But, if you don't ask, I will not force myself upon you. I will wait.  But  a hardened heart is still sin.  Guard your heart.  But, if you should ever stray again, I will again forgive you.  My love for you can do no less.
     And to the youngest:  Your actions speak loudly of your repentance, and I will celebrate the new life welling up in you.  True joy in found in my presence.  But, if you should ever again stray, I will again forgive you.  My love for you can do no less.  
     This parable is about two lost sons who have wandered away from the father's loving arms.  God's love is perfect:  He will wait for however long it takes and will forgive us when we seek Him.  
     He is 1 Corinthians 13's definition of love:  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Son Also Rises--Part III of the Prodigal Sons

     Our lost son, in tow of "his senses" and not anything else, is on the road again.  Perhaps life is a highway, as the song says.  But roads are, by definition, taking you somewhere...away from, or to somewhere.  Our son is heading home.  Not too long ago, it was the last place he wanted to be.  Now his heart is bruised and home doesn't look so bad.  
     Walking home, he has a lot of time to think.  His rumbling stomach reminds him of his poverty.  How many times does he rehearse his speech?  "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’"  Does he think of other things to say?  Or does he speak these lines over and over, painfully aware of how much he has hurt his father?  Does he see his father's last look in his mind's eye as he walked out the door not so long ago?  
     The road for this son becomes a place of reflection, of revisiting where he's been as he heads home.  He is suspended between two places:  his painful past and his uncertain future, and the only present he has is the sound of his feet pounding the road.  How will he be received?  
     He vows to not enter his home brimming with the arrogance and privilege of sonship.  He feels his sin has demoted him--he is "no longer worthy to be called your son."  He feels he has forfeited his place the day he took the money and walked out.  He has another reckoning to consider:  his offense is also against God.
     His order of his offense is correct:  "I have sinned against heaven and against you."  By denying a fundamental aspect of his faith, the commandment to "honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you" must have stung his spirit.  He had been living well--his father had provided for him and he lacked nothing.  Now, he is no better than the Gentiles in his estimation--he has dishonored God.  His spirit is defeated and ashamed. 
     The road is now showing him those familiar landmarks along the way...the well where the women gather, the lovely trees that sway in the afternoon breeze, the children who chase each other in a field.  He looks differently now at this countryside that had once seemed so narrow, so confining...Now it feels like, well, heaven.

     “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."  Wow!  The son, head down as more guilt wells up in him, probably never even sees his father running towards him.  The son is probably repeating his speech and then feels this rush of warmth and strong arms enveloping him.  Little does he realize that each day while he was gone, his father went out to the road to scan the horizon for him.
     Let's ponder this a moment.  The father never lost faith that his son would eventually return.  The first few weeks the son was gone, as painful as they were, could not dim the hope in the father's heart.  But as weeks turned into months, don't we struggle with a dimming hope?   It grows harder each day for us to face that empty road.  Yet, the father unfailingly went out.  He knew his son well enough to know that at some point, this young man's flight to "freedom" would turn into a retreat from slavery. 
     The father demonstrated his faith...he walked "by faith and not by sight."  He leaned heavily on the loving arms of God:  to carry his grieving heart and to protect his son.  After all, as painful as it was for him to lose his son, his son's alienation from God was all the more searing.  The father's faith in God was evinced each day as he walked out that door.    
     Then THE day came, and the father sees that familiar outline of a young man coming down the road.  He rushes to sweep up his haggard, thin, disheveled son with dust on his feet and the guilt--oh the guilt!--drowning his heart.  The father is "filled with compassion" and RUNS to this son.  His compassion sees through the sin and now sees an insecure and lonely young man who wanted to find his place in the world.  The father sees the "wages" the son has paid with his sinful behavior and no words are spoken.  He throws his arms around his son and kisses him.  
     At that breathtaking moment, the son starts his speech...he doesn't even get to finish it..."The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’"  The bit about making him one of the father's hired men is left out...did his father's effusive response render those words rather useless or did he literally not finish the speech because his father wasted no time in telling the servants to "‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."
     The father didn't want a contrite speech...the son's humble return was contrition enough.  The son had confessed his sin by his actions.  He was willing to return to his father, not claiming sonship, but a lower status of serving in the household and no longer being a  part of the family.  The son acknowledges the terrible twins of sin:  Sin hurts those love us and sears the heart of the One Who loves us without measure.  
     The father immediately restores the son to again being a son:  he receives a new robe, a ring and sandals.  Remember Joseph?  The Pharoah, upon showing his appreciation for Joseph's plan to save Egypt from future famine, puts him in fine linen robes.  Surely the son remembers this story.  He too, like Joseph, is being raised up to a position of honor.  The sandals on his feet reinforce this, for only servants go barefoot.  Joseph received a gold chain around his neck from the Pharoah and our son receives a ring.  Joseph was a good and caring son, and is received back into Jacob's family after many adventures.  The father is reminding his son that he has not lost his position in the family despite his adventures.  
     The sweet smell of a roast, the sounds of laughter and the joyful words of the father will echo into the night and soothe the heart of the returned son.  But equally, these same things will goad the other son, who refused to join the welcoming party.  The older son is out working and his head is down.  Not in repentance, but in overwhelming anger.

Next time:  Storm clouds are gathering...the other prodigal son makes his appearance

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Prodigal SONS--Part II

    We left our wandering son in a faraway country, spending his money and having an awfully good time.
     But, the money does run out…he spent “everything.” This necessarily would not have been a problem, if he had been seeking gainful employment, or had found a job already. But that would have meant looking ahead, and our younger brother was about the NOW. Thinking about the future?  Nah--that's for kill-joys like my  father and older brother. 
     Now, outside forces invade his world—forces he has no control over.  Famine hits the land. When people are starving, normal activities screech to a halt and the lights go out. People focus on themselves, understandably so, for worrying about the next meal is overwhelming. Where are all of his friends now? It’s every man for himself, and our younger son goes looking for SOMETHING. His resources could have been a hedge against such calamity, but it hits him hard now that he has nothing. 
     He goes to a “citizen of that country” and asks for a job—any job. (Desperation deflates arrogance and self-sufficiency rather quickly!) This man is probably not a fellow Jew—this man is raising pigs, a taboo animal and forbidden food source for the Jews. The younger son shows up at this man's door, with his Jewish dress and demeanor and probably looks as out of place as an astronaut at a fashion show. The man has some pity for this young man, and looks out over his farm.  "You want a job?  OK, you can go feed the pigs."  
     Did our younger son wince at the suggestion? Unclean is as unclean does, and here he is, going into a kosher nightmare. Did the man even know of the Jewish aversion to pigs? Did he even care?  Was he looking into the eyes of the young man and thinking, "This kid is desperate, and will do any job I send him to!"  Was the man playing with him...or was the man genuinely sympathetic to this kid on his doorstep? 
     How the mighty have fallen. Out to the pigpen he goes. He’s hungry as all get-out. It’s not like he can nip into McDonald’s for a value menu item. He sees the pods the pigs are munching, and they start looking awfully inviting. Note: “no one gave him anything.” Interesting—this young man, whose money jingled in the pockets of prostitutes and innkeepers all over town, this young who was well known, is now refused all help. No food, no offers of assistance, no bed to sleep on. 
     Sometimes, when we are deep in our sin, God allows pain to come in and pinch us into reality: Our pride has indeed led us to a fall, and in order for us to get up and out of our circumstances, the Lord closes all the doors, except one...We need to start walking home to where He awaits. 
     My favorite line in the whole parable is “When he came to his senses.” Wow—he has an “A-ha!” moment!  Listen to what he said, in Jesus' words:  “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”  
     Suddenly, he has a plan: Even his father’s servants are living better than him—they eat well, with enough food to spare (code word for "I don’t even have what a servant has—I am lower than the lowest member of my society!") Our younger son has awakened to REALITY—he has walked out from behind the false front of sin and sees it’s just an empty movie-lot.  His foray into arrogant independence has left him with nothing. He is not only starving, but he is spiritually hungry as well. 
     He rehearses his speech to his father, emphasizing his sin and how it is an affront to heaven and to his father. Nail on the head, son: sin isn’t just going you own way and getting run over—you have disappointed heaven with your behavior and have estranged yourself from the ones who love you the most. 
     The younger son has the honesty to admit that somehow he lost his title of “son”—What kind of son have I been? My father used to love to talk to me, even if I never responded, and at night, the empty place at the table reminds him of my absence. He doesn’t even know if I am alive.  Has he heard about the famine? Does he picture me lying in a gutter, with a sunken face, begging for food? Does he wake up at night, having dreamt that I was robbed on the road, my money bag torn from my belt, and my beaten-up body thrown into a ditch?  
     He wonders...What must the Lord think of me?  I have shamed the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. I, a Jew, am handling the food of pigs, and am bringing mockery to my faith because of my actions. I need to go home.  I must go home. 
     Let's stop for a moment. He could have just sat there, feeling sorry for himself, seeing himself as a victim of circumstance. He could have blamed his father for working him too hard, thus driving him away.  No.  He places the blame squarely on his own shoulders. Perhaps life is not all that good on our farm, but we must take responsibility for our failures and use them as a catalyst for change. If we see ourselves as a victim, we will wallow in the mire of self-pity and not crawl out. We will soon so identify with our victim-hood that what happened to us will become who we are. 
     This younger son remembers who his is: the son of a father who loves him, and who wants the best for him.  In fact, the father wants better for the son than the son wants for himself.
     Jesus says the son “got up”—where was he? Was he lying in a barn on some hay? Was he sitting near the pigs, appalled at their table manners but envying their full bellies?  
    But...He did GET UP.  He “went to his father.” He went back to his source—back to what the “distant country” had failed to give him—love and a sense of who he is. 

Next time:  Happy Reunion!?  Kinda Depends on Who You Talk To! 

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Parable of the Prodigal SONS: Part 1

So, let us begin our study of the parables with this rather famous one:
Luke 15:11-32:  The Parable of the Lost Son (New International Version)
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Bible
     Let’s set up the context.  Jesus loved to tell stories that held within their seemingly simple message, a profound set of truths.  Jesus is traveling, and large crowds are following Him, including the “tax collectors and ‘sinners’”—those people who were considered evil by the people.  Tax collectors handled the unclean coins of the Romans, and were, in effect, in league with the Roman government, who was bitterly oppressive towards the Jewish people.  These tax collectors not only collected money to finance such a government, but were not above pocketing some money for themselves.  The NIV Study Bible puts it well: “Notoriously evil people as well as those who refused to follow the Mosaic law as interpreted by the teachers of the law.  The term was commonly used of tax collectors, adulterers, robbers and the like.” 
     In other words, the good folks were following Jesus along with a contingent that society scorned.  But didn’t they deserve it?  Who would dare to collect money for a government that oppresses people…Why should we allow people who are unfaithful, who have sex for money, who steal and who engages in God-knows-what-other-sin to be part of Jesus’ followers? 
     It’s OK to have some revulsion for what these people do, but Jesus tries to get through the sinful behavior, and get down to the essence of the person.  He tries to rescue people from a particular category, and stands that person in front of us as a person.  He is reestablishing that person’s humanity that we all share, good or bad behavior aside.  As soon as we categorize a person (“Oh, he’s a sinner, a tax collector, a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser, etc.”) that person loses the connection to all of us, and is much more easily discarded.  So, do we forget what this person is doing/has done?  No, Jesus always confronts sin and never minimizes it, but He never strips a person of his or her humanity either.
     People are jostling for position to hear Jesus teach, and are casting scornful looks at the tax collector or the prostitute.  Once in position, the good folks are smiling up at Jesus, with a Look, Lord, here I am.  Yeah, I occasionally sin, but thank God I am not like that woman over there!  I am ready to listen…
     Add to the mix the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, hanging back distance, for fear they should have to stand amongst the unwashed masses. They are muttering to themselves, but loud enough for people to hear, how they cannot understand how a teacher could be associated with such people.  Well, Rabbi Jesus, we deal with them too, but look who you are willing to eat with!  Sinners!  Tax Collectors!  And you call yourself a Rabbi, one who follows Moses’ law and claims to walk uprightly with God?  Eating with someone, may we remind you, isn’t just lifting a morsel of bread at a table with someone—it is a sign of friendship.  You are befriending those whom God has judged to be beyond hope, in our humble opinion.  If you really want to be a rabbi, one whom we could respect, you would teach these people and then leave and dine with us.  We are the ones that God really favors.
     Then Luke says, “Then Jesus told them this parable…” He waited until the mumbling Pharisees quieted down.  Jesus could see into their hearts—all of the people's hearts—and tell those parables that would cut through the pious exterior and go directly to the heart of the matter.  Jesus is asking, in effect:  What do we do with those whose behavior disgusts us, and what kind of attitude must we have when interacting with them?  As Jesus’ story unfolds, did the "sinners," whose faces were stonily watching the crowd, along with those who wouldn’t even look up for shame, let alone look at Jesus—did their faces soften as they heard His words?  He starts to tell the story, and a hush descends.
      Everyone can relate to having a sibling, especially with large families being the cultural norm in this time.  The younger son decides it’s time to strike off on his own—that’s not a problem.  But how is he to finance his launch?  Now, there’s the problem.  The NIV Study Bible notes that in Jewish culture, the older son possessed double the portion of the father’s inheritance.  Deuteronomy 21:17 saw to that.  It is interesting that earlier, in Luke 12:13, an angry young man comes up to Jesus, and wants Him to settle a family dispute:  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  The NIV notes that rabbis regularly settled such disputes, but Jesus’ response to the young man's request is when was He “appointed judge or an arbiter between you?” Then Jesus warns the young man, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Did this young man’s face flash into Jesus’ mind as He started telling the story?    Was greed likewise in the heart of the young man in the parable?
     The NIV Study Bible says this is a “highly unusual” request to make, for the father may divide the inheritance, but that the father “retains the income from it until his death.”  So, by lessening the total of the inheritance by giving some of it to the younger son, is the income upon which the father will now live be less?  Will the older son’s inheritance provide the sole income for the father? 
     But, of course, the younger son wasn’t thinking of his father’s welfare—he was thinking of himself.  That’s how we work, huh?  What’s good for me—hey, good question!  I am tired of worrying about others, and now I need to look after myself.  Being good…pshaw.  Being a good son ain’t it’s all cracked up to be.  I want to be my own person, and look to what I can do for ME.   
     The first stage of leaving is a change in attitude.  The younger son didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to leave.  Did he watch his older brother working day after day on behalf of the father, and say, That will not be me.  Being good all the time?  No way.  Look where it’s getting my brother—fast track to No-wheres-ville. 
     (We will find out later that the older brother was battling with his own negative attitude not only about his life but also about his younger brother.) 
     So, the younger son packs up and gets “together all he had.”  Given that his resources are going to be limited (he’s young, he hasn’t made his way in the world yet), “all he had” wasn’t much.  But is Jesus looking deeper than what was in the younger son’s pack back?  Was “all he had” just that… himself?  He had his self-confidence, his pride and his arrogance to carry him through.  Did he look at himself and say, Hey, I am good enough to make it on my own.  No slaving in a field and dealing with Dad.  I am my own man, and whatever life throws at me, I will handle it. 
     How often do we say to God:  Enough.  I can handle this.  You’ve asked too much of me,  I am tired of being good all the time—it’s not getting me anywhere,  and I need to try this out based on what I think. 
     So, our younger son leaves “for a distant country.”  No living next door to Dad and brother.  Hey!  I need to reinvent myself—I am tired of being the son of so and so, and the younger brother of so and so.  I need to be ME and I must do it away from the prying eyes of my family.  I am outta here and look out world!  Here I come! 
     So, within some period of time, after his first foot fall in Anywhere-but-here-ville, he starts to spend his inheritance.  He didn’t go looking for a job right away—oh no, he’s got money.  A few inns here and there, some new friends to spend time with and soon he’s the center of the party:  You always have friends if you are paying.  All that money will last a long time, huh?  And all those pretty women, who light up when he walks into a room…All those guys, who pat him on the back, clear a place at the table, and signal him to sit down.  He then orders the endless rounds of drinks.  No worries…I’ve got people around me who really care—just look at them.  Everyone in this town knows my name.  I am no longer the younger brother…I am ME.  I’ve got friends to prove blisters on my hands from the plow, or dirt in my teeth.  I have arrived.

Next time:  When the money runs out (it always does)...  

For more posts in my parable series, click here.
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