And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in 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 into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise 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 as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And 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 servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’
I love this piece of scripture. I have read it over and over dozens and dozens of times, mesmerized by the beautiful picture of grace that Jesus is painted for his disciples. The story highlights a young man (and his father and older brother) who is anxious to receive his inheritance, he chooses to dishonor his father and prematurely demand his inheritance, which is then blown on parties, booze and girls (that’s the Chelsea translation, the ESV simply states the fortune was squandered in reckless living…). After a serious of unfortunate events, the son finds himself salivating over the food in a pig trough, he decides to head home and beg for his father to treat him as a servant.
The boy’s father sees his son in the distance and takes off running towards him (this is profound… middle eastern men did not run). The father greets his son with a giant hug and a kiss, and immediately makes arrangements for a giant welcome home celebration. The son’s offer to become a servant is never responded to by the father.
A fatted cow is killed (an expensive delicacy) and the party begins. The older brother of the boy returns home from the field, curious of the celebration in progress. To his disgust, the older brother learns of his brother’s return home. He sees his father is overjoyed and he sees a cow has been killed in his honor.
Didn’t his father remember the grief the son had put their family through? Didn’t he recall what he had done? Was there really a party in his honor? He was furious.
The older son has done everything right. In fact, you could say he was the model son. When his brother ran off, he stayed. While his brother was partying, he was working and obeying orders. In his eyes, he was pretty much perfect. Didn’t dad see that?
He had never had anything killed in his honor, not even a goat.
No recognition. No party. How dare he.
Last week I had a disgusting revelation. I am the older brother.
In my mind, the older brother had the right to be mad. He had the right to not want to celebrate. The older son’s feelings and reactions were justified. In actuality, the hearts of both brothers were exactly the same. Both sons wanted their father’s goods, rather than their father himself. They were both in it for the “stuff,” rather than the relationship.
I tend to forget that grace changes everything. What I have or haven’t done doesn’t effect how God sees me or you or how He loves us. That is the same regardless. He still looks for us, He still longs for us to return. And when we do, He runs to us and celebrates that we are home.
I may look like I have my act together. I may not be out drinking or smoking or having sex, but I do have things in my heart that I am not proud of. And ultimately, I do place “stuff” on a higher priority than my relationship with Jesus at times. I think that I should get more because I have lived a more “pure life” than others (whatever that means…). That because I’ve worked harder at cultivating a life with Jesus that looks put together on the outside, I am more deserving of His love and His recognition.
But that’s not grace at all.
In reality, we are all screw ups.
We are all so far off the mark from where God would like us to be.
We all need grace.