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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...