When I really think about the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11-32, I wonder if I’ve ever really gotten it: God loves sinners! It’s really that simple, but I tend to make it much, much more complicated.
It’s a fascinating story told by Jesus, and our thoughts tend to focus on the “rebel” son. He wants his dad’s assets, and he wants them now. He says, in effect, to his father: “I wish you were dead.” It’s kind of gross, and it’s extremely disrespectful. We can see it clearly: “It’s all about me.”
But what about the older brother … the “righteous” son? I think the key to understanding this dude is found not in the parable itself, but in the chapter’s first two verses: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
The older brother is just as headstrong as we found the younger brother to be when he left home with all his stuff. The older brother is just as angry with his father as the younger brother had been, but for different reasons. The older brother doesn’t want his dad to show any love to his wayward brother. Again, “It’s all about me.” For a dad who’s all about love, that is not much different than your son wanting you to be dead.
I think you get my point. Both guys are messed up, but in different ways. But not really. Because they both really want dad to be somebody’s he’s not. The exciting part of the story is when the younger brother finally gets it – I don’t deny that – but I just wanted to make the point that both brothers are dogged by the same pride.
So here’s the scary part for me: maybe I’m the older brother. The one who doesn’t get it, at all. The one who is angry, and who refuses to come to the party. The one who is self-righteous, and clueless about it. The one who thinks that he’s on the right track, but doesn’t see the oncoming train. The one who thinks that he’s “serving” and “obeying” just fine.
There is a Pharisee in me, you see. I don’t like to think about it, but it’s true. There is a part of me that loves to feel superior to others. To feel like I deserve God’s love and kindness. To feel proud of my spiritual status. To feel confident in my piety and devotion. So when I see someone “less deserving” receiving blessings from the Lord, I can resent it – if I’m left to wallow in my own foolish, selfish pride.
I can forget grace. I can forget that the chasm of sin is so wide that nothing I do can bridge it. I can forget that God loves first. (I can be quite forgetful.)
And here’s the thing about Pharisees. They’re the hardest to reach with the good news of the gospel. They’re the hardest to penetrate with the truth. They’re the last to know that the party was really the place to be.
I’m grateful that we have a Father who loves us while we’re still a long way off!
So, my friends, whether you feel today like you’re near or far, come home. God loves sinners of all stripes, you see. So please come home.
The party is waiting.