Saturday, April 23, 2022

Knock, Knocking at Heaven's Door: The Parable of the Widow, Part I

 Let's dive in!

“There was a judge in a certain city who didn’t fear God, and didn’t respect man. A widow was in that city, and she often came to him, saying, ‘Defend me from my adversary!’ He wouldn’t for a while, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God, nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.’”

The Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says. Won’t God avenge his chosen ones, who are crying out to him day and night, and yet he exercises patience with them? I tell you that he will avenge them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:2-8 WEB)

In the preceding chapter, the Pharisees inquired when the Kingdom of God will come.  Jesus teaches it is not somewhere out there: because “God’s Kingdom is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

The disciples then ask Jesus (probably later on) about how the Kingdom of God will come.  Jesus says that first He will suffer “many things and be rejected by this generation.”  (Luke 17:25)  Jesus comments on how both in Noah’s time and Lot’s, people carried on as usual. Then swift and utter destruction came.  Jesus speaks of an upcoming catastrophe.  Vultures will gather (death will be everywhere) and it will be a grim and soul-trying time.  I am sure that the disciples were crest-fallen when they heard this.  If they were expecting a triumphant Jesus vanquishing the Romans, and making God’s Kingdom a reality on the inside as well as on the outside, they were quickly disavowed of this notion by Jesus’ words. 

Then, in the first verse of Luke 18:2, Jesus tells them “a parable to them that they must always pray, and not give up” and here we have our persistent widow, an unrighteous judge and an adversary, who menaces the widow.  

Let's set the scene.  We have a less than sterling judge. We have a widow who is in desperate need of a judgment against an "adversary." 

These 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 clearance rack at the discount department store?  These people interact every day 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 offense originally was?  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—this judge 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 are the people supposed to do?  He's the only one in town who can dispense justice.

The widow knows about his reputation.  She equally knows she is 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 judgment, 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 preoccupied with just personal safety and that insensitive about the suffering of others can recognize 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?  How God seems to take such a long time to bring about justice?

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.  It seems he lurks about town, and gets away with murder. Literally. 

So, Jesus launches this parable with the theme to keep praying and never give up.  He has predicted a future event that will try the souls of all who call on Him.  But prayer is the disciples’ lifeline and ours. 

We need to ask for mercy for those who hurt, suffer and cry out. 

We need to ask for justice for those who sin, cause misery and repent not. 

Is Jesus asking us to be more focused in our prayers?  Perhaps.  I think He is asking us to reevaluate who we think God is.  He compares God's personality to that of the judge's, and how God is nothing like the judge--despite our believing so.   

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.

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.

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.  He is at work in His creation. 

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 in the near future.  Justice will be borne 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.  He will put the adversary on borrowed time.

God wants us to be persistent and walking in faith each day.  The time is coming when the judgment 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? 

Why is the widow so persistent?  The responsibility of that judge is to uphold justice.  He was sworn in and he occupies that office because of that oath.  Regardless of his personal feelings towards the widow, it is his office that demands he act, and act fairly.  She is counting on his office and not on his personal charm, or the lack thereof. 

Now, consider that judge who is unjust, holding an office that demands justice, and consider the One Who is just and Who entered into a covenant (He walked among the animals halves in front of Abraham) that He would treat His children with love and mercy.  He would bridge the gap between His holy Self and our sinful selves.   

He upholds justice and is Justice itself, so sin will have its day in Court:  “But the Lord shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.” (Ps. 9:7-8)

He upholds mercy is and is Mercy itself, so forgiveness will have its day in Court as well:  Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.” (Psalm 25:6) 

Why is this?  God’s covenant still stands: 

Don’t remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.
    Remember me according to your loving kindness,
    for your goodness’ sake, Yahweh.
Good and upright is Yahweh,
    therefore he will instruct sinners in the way.
He will guide the humble in justice.
    He will teach the humble his way.
All the paths of Yahweh are loving kindness and truth
    to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, Yahweh,
    pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

What man is he who fears Yahweh?
    He shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose.
His soul shall dwell at ease.
    His offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of Yahweh is with those who fear him.
    He will show them his covenant.                                      (Psalm 25:7-14 WEB)

God’s justice and mercy exist because it is in His nature.  He can do no more or no less.  He instructs us through His word what He demands of us. 

Both the judge and the widow knew the law—no mystery there. 

God has shown us what He expects of us and what we can expect from Him—no mystery there. 

We are children of the New Covenant.  He is the Lord of the New Covenant.  We knock on Heaven’s door with confidence: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb. 4:16)

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Which Brother Are YOU? (Part IV)

Here is a beautiful tie-in with the two brothers and with Easter.  Bear with me awhile. 

Do you remember David and his covenant with Jonathan? 

In Samuel 18:2-4, we read: From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (NIV)

Do you notice we have two sons here?  Saul is so amazed at this young David that he brought him into his household and wouldn’t allow him to go home.  Jonathan has such respect for him that they covenant together, and Jonathan gives him his royal attire. But note here:  Saul will soon raise this young David to be his successor, not his natural son Jonathan. 

Two sons, just like our parable.  Jesus knew His listeners would remember how David was treated by Jonathan, who could have been just as angry as the older brother was.  David is brought into the royal household and made an exalted member.  But did Jonathan react like the older brother when he saw the favor bestowed on David by Saul, Jonathan’s father?  No:  he is an exact opposite: He embraced him and supported him. 

Later on, Jonathan is killed.  David has not forgotten that covenant.  We read in 2 Samuel 9:1: "And David said, 'Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan's sake?'"

David is informed that Jonathan left behind a crippled son.  He is living with Saul’s chief steward, Ziba.  This son inherited Saul’s estate. (NIV note on the text, p. 436) 

Let’s read this lovely story:

David said, “Is there yet any who is left of Saul’s house, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” There was of Saul’s house a servant whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

He said, “I am your servant.”

The king said, “Is there not yet any of Saul’s house, that I may show the kindness of God to him?”

Ziba said to the king, “Jonathan still has a son, who is lame in his feet.”

The king said to him, “Where is he?”

Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.”

Then king David sent, and brought him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo Debar. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face, and showed respect. David said, “Mephibosheth.”

He answered, “Behold, your servant!”

David said to him, “Don’t be afraid of him; for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your father. You will eat bread at my table continually.”

He bowed down, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look at such a dead dog as I am?” 

Then the king called to Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house have I given to your master’s son. Till the land for him, you, your sons, and your servants. Bring in the harvest, that your master’s son may have bread to eat; but Mephibosheth your master’s son will always eat bread at my table.”

Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so your servant will do.” So Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, like one of the king’s sons. (2 Samuel 9:1-11 WEB)

Do you see?  This son of Jonathan comes to King David as a servant, and David accepts him as a son.  He restores what is rightfully his, and allows this son to dine at King David’s table. Mephibosheth sees himself as a “dead dog”—just as the younger son said that he was no worthy to be called a son.  Both these two young men saw themselves as deserving of nothing.  The King and the Father both saw these young men as sons. 

The covenant held, despite the one son’s crippled feet (which, in ancient times, would have been seen as a judgment) and an older son's behavior.  The covenant held.

In our parable, both sons failed to keep their end of the covenant with their father.  The older son, although he toiled for his father, did not do it out of love—he did not love his father with all of his heart, soul and mind.  He did it out of duty.  The older son inwardly rebelled, and then chose to live in way that denied his father’s provision and protection.  His heart had turned to stone, and only doing his duty mattered and not having a relationship with his father.  The younger son openly rebelled and walked away from his father’s provision and protection.  The son then chose to live in a way that repudiated all that his father stood for:  his beliefs, his love for his sons and his faith in God. 

But the father, in his lovingkindness (another word for “covenant” in Hebrew) upheld his part of the agreement:  He stayed their father, with his provision and protection still available when his sons turned from their ways and sought him. He cherished both and desperately wanted reconciliation with them both.  He wanted to bridge the gap created by their sinful attitudes and resulting behavior.

In the end, it was the father’s grace that prevailed and his love “covered a multitude of sins.”  He stood at the road each day, awaiting the return of the younger son, and I am sure he equally cast a glance over his shoulder to see his other son laboring in the field.  He loved both, honored both, but equally wanted them to share in his provision out of love for him. 

Jesus was saying that in the New Covenant, the dutiful son and the errant son are just that:  sons, not servants.  The older son acted like a servant—he toiled every day, but never got around to asking his father to have a party for him and his friends.  But he was a son, entitled to all the father had. 

Likewise, the younger son wanted to return into the household as a servant, and the father refused.  He welcomed the lad back with no change in status:  He was still and would always be, his son.

In the New Covenant, we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.  We enter His kingdom only through the shed blood of His Son.  Our dutiful behavior is just as useless as our errant behavior.  It’s not our behavior, it is His blood that swings open the doors of heaven, and into the arms of our Father we go!    

Romans 8:14-17 says, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."

The two brothers also represent the New Covenant in how they are to be reconciled:  the older, dutiful son is the Jew and the errant son is the Gentile.  Jew and Gentile are no longer divided, but are brought together in Christ.  In fact, all of us, whatever kind of "brother" we are, come together:  

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10)

What the Father has is now ours through His Son.  We are no longer outcasts, but sons and daughters.  He has already done His part of the covenant—He sent His Son to die upon a cross.

He rose again.  He desires to live in us.  

Are we willing to do our part?  Are we willing to lay down our attitudes, good works, self-righteousness, pride, sin and anger and walk into our Father’s house?  I hear there’s a wonderful party going on… But, we must take a moment of self-reflection:  Which brother are you? 

Are you the older brother?  Are you out in the field every day, doing what you believe is right and then finding that at the end of the day are you worn and weary?  Is being “good” or “good enough” wearing you down?  Are you so busy at tilling the earth under your feet that you don’t look up at the stars in the sky?  

Do you shrink back into the shadows, hearing the joy and music of others, wanting to be a part of it, yet feeling somehow you are less deserving to partake?  Do you feel that your Heavenly Father is just too busy to notice you, or that no matter how hard you strive, you don’t feel at all blessed with the Father’s abundance?

Let’s apply how the older brother reacted and follow his lead back to the father:

·       “And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.”  Admit you are tired/angry/disappointed/weary…Notice how the father came out and talked to his son.  Your Heavenly Father is waiting to hear you spill out your hurting heart. 

·       “And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.”  Admit you are tired of leading a life that bears little or no fruit.  You have served God but you feel that little has been offered in return.  Ask the Father to be attentive to how you have served and how isolated from His love you feel.

·       “But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”  Admit that others seemed more blessed than you and you feel that somehow you deserved to be blessed as well. 

·       “And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”  Search your heart now…in the light of the Father’s love, do you feel a hidden shame, a hidden sin, a hidden something…Were you out in the fields to get away from your Father, hiding behind duty because your love had grown cold?  See His response:  He is ever with you and all His has is yours.  He has covenanted with you:  His resources are yours:  His love, His power, His strength.  What He has called you to do, He will empower you to do.  Renew your relationship with Him and know that His love wants to cleanse you and crown you as the son or daughter that you are.  You’ll want to be obedient now, not because you have to, but because His love causes your heart to overflow.  You will want to be with your Father and make Him smile.  Listen:  He’s welcoming you back.

Are you the younger brother?
Have you travelled to a distant country of sin, and despite its allure at first, you’re now wallowing around in the muck, with lots of bridges burned and doors that are perpetually closed? Were you once loved and you walked away, somehow knowing that such love isn’t meant for people like you?
Are you eating pig food, wanting desperately to go back to a good place, but don’t know how to start, or where to start? Do you feel beyond the reach of our Heavenly Father? That His arms can’t reach you and even if they did, instead of an embrace, you’d receive a slap? Are you sick of those for whom obedience seems to come easily, and you’re always struggling to figure out who you are?
Let’s apply how the younger son reacted, and follow his lead back to the father:

  • “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’” Confess your sin. God the Father is already aware of your state. You can’t surprise Him with what you have done. He wants you to utter what you have done to own its reality and no longer deny where you are and what you have been doing. He wants you to know that whomever you have hurt, you have hurt Him first, and He longs to restore the relationship.
  • “And he arose, and came to his father.” No wallowing in self-pity or such self-abasement that you see yourself as a “dead dog.” Go. Move towards God and you will find that the Father has been waiting and is already moving towards you.
  • “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” Accept the robe. Accept the ring. Accept the shoes. Enjoy the barbeque. Be merry. The Father has forgiven you.
Now walk in the beauty of holiness. No longer dwell on what you were. Dwell on whose household you are now a member of: You are now dining at the King’s table.

"carried to the table leeland lyrics"  is a beautiful meditation on this theme on Youtube. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Where's the Other Brother? (Part III)

Where's the older/other brother?   

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.  

As the father speaks a blessing over the son, the servants array the young man in the garments of acceptance, and the feast preparations are in full swing, the older brother is conspicuously absent.  

He comes up from the field and hears the music coming from the house. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he was way out in the field, 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.  He asks a servant what is happening, hears of his brother’s celebration and becomes upset and will not go into the house.  

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 stony 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:  What 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 his sufferings.  He equally focuses on the father’s shortcomings, especially in dealing with that ne’er’-do-well younger son. 

Then, with the younger son's appearance, the older son starts a Who’s The Better Son  Contest (with the assured winner): 

This son of yours has cavorted with prostitutes!  That’s something I’d never do!

This son of yours has landed this family in financial trouble!  I am slaving away in the fields to help you recover the loss of our money!

This son of yours gets the best this family has—your money and now the fatted calf!  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. 

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 my stupid brother to help me!  Doesn't Dad see how much I am working?  Does he even CARE? 

Soon, even though the older son's actions were still dutiful, his heart was hardening under the sin of anger and hurt.  Was he then more and more inclined to stay away from his father? 

Did he secretly blame his 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 now just hollow obedience.  The older son had, over time, replaced love with duty. 

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 feel your love slowly hardening into duty, come back to love.  I will again forgive you.  My love for you can do no less.

Next, to the youngest:  Your actions speak loudly of your repentance, and I will celebrate the new life welling up in you.  True joy is 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.  Sin is sin:  whether it’s out there for all to see and be disgusted by, or it’s well hidden, buried in a cold heart, unseen and papered over with duty.

Jesus had two “sons” in front of Him that day.

The Pharisees were better at hiding their sin under the mantle of religious duty.  Yet their hearts seethed with resentment that “sinners” should get equal time from God as they do.  They were dutiful, yes, but Jesus identified their lack of love:  their hearts of flesh had turned to hearts of stone.  Only God could see that; Jesus saw it as well.  Their sin was hidden to the unclean masses, but not to Jesus.

The “sinners” couldn’t run and they couldn’t hide.  Everyone knew who they were and what they did.  Some wouldn’t even look at Jesus, their shame bearing down on them with full force.  He saw in them the younger son:  they needed to leave their distant country and return to their Father, with a contrite heart and a willingness to turn from sin. 

He saw the need for reconciliation between His Father and these two “sons.”  He also saw the need for reconciliation between the "older dutiful son" (the Pharisees) and the "younger sinning son" (everyone else).  

His Father’s house was big enough for both kinds of sons.   

Why?  God's love is perfect.  He will wait for however long it takes and will forgive us when we seek Him.  Our Heavenly Father and precious Son embody 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.

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Return of One, the Rejection of the Other (Part II)

My favorite line in the whole parable is “When he came to his senses.” 

Wow—he has an “A-ha!” moment!  He decides better to be a servant in his father’s house than a dude with an aching belly.  Now 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 fabulous 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 one who loves you the most. 

The younger son is honest.  He feels he has lost the 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?  What kind of son ignores his father?

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 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 down on the 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 victimhood that what happened to us will become who we are. 

This younger son suddenly 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...the son did GET UP.  He “went to his father.” He going back to his source—back to what the “distant country” has failed to give him—love and a sense of who he is. 

Our lost son, now 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 homecoming speech?  Is he stung by the thought 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 for 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. 

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:  Heaven, then his father. 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 shocked 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. 

He 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 evident 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.  He 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?  Pharaoh, 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 Pharaoh 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.” 

Joseph has another interesting parallel to our wandering son.  He was sold into slavery by his brothers, but Jacob thought his son was dead.  Imagine the joy Jacob felt upon realizing that his son was alive and well! The father in the parable felt no less than Jacob.  Jesus’ listeners heard the echo of Jacob’s laughter as he told this parable.

The sweet smell of roasting meat, the sounds of laughter and the joyful words of the father will echo well into the night and soothe the heart of the returned son. 

But equally, these very 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.

Picture this:  joyful laughter, fine clothing and the enticing smell of roasting meat.  A bustle of activity, a whirlwind of preparation...a smiling father, a son beaming in the light of an unburdened soul and soon, all is ready...

Except for one thing...where the other family member?  He’s out working in the field.

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