Sunday, March 06, 2016

Reflections on the 4th Sunday in Lent

From this morning's Lectionary, portions of Luke 15:
"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the better known New Testament narratives, speaking to unconditional love and  and forgiveness. From a superficial look, it speaks of a selfish son who being bent on immediate gratification, takes his inheritance, blows it, is cast into abject poverty, returns home, and is forgiven by his father.  While all this is a part of the story, there is far more going on within this parable.

For way too many years, I would read this parable with my focus being fixed on the little brother.  His behavior was nothing to write home about.  He was rash, ingracious, and self-centered.  In demanding his inheritance, he insulted his father in ways we westerners don't understand.  He blew through his inheritance like lunch through a goose and when famine hit, he was left destitute. He hatched a scheme to get back into his father's home but the father would hear none of it.  He wouldn't be welcomed back as hired help, rather he was restored as a son and his return was celebrated.

Three years ago my focus was diverted from the prodigal to the "good" son, the one who stayed at his father's side.  For too long, I saw him as an offended party but in truth, he was in as much need of redemption as his party animal brother.  Unlike Bluto, this older hid his darkness behind a veneer of virtue.  He is far more like most of us than we'd ever hope to admit.  Beneath the layers of devotion, diligence and seeming good behavior lay a heart that was bitter and resentful.  He felt resentment on many levels and was furious over the grace his father extended to is brother.

The sense of entitlement is an easy trap to fall into.  We tow the line, do all the right things, behave, and feel that God owes us for our fealty.  Then, we see others getting ahead or being blessed we feel ripped off.  We grumble and hold a simmering resentment over what we believe to be some Divine sleight.  This separates us from the Almighty.

God's word tells us a different story.  Sovereign Grace has been extended to us, not on the basis of our merit but because of the love of God.  Consider the father's words in reminding his son that "he has always been at his father's side and all his father possessed was his.  This wasn't on the basis of his good behavior but on the basis of his father's love. 

We are loved, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.


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