August 21 — “Brand New: The Prodigal Son”
If you have your Bibles, open them to Luke 15.
Today we are starting a series titled Brand New, after my favorite band of all time.
In the weeks that we are in Brand New, we’ll take a look at passages that you’ve mostly likely heard of before. These are probably considered cliche passages, and when you hear the titles, you might even roll your eyes. But my hope is that during these weeks, we can look at these stories from a new perspective. Hopefully, we can see them from a new angle that sheds light on something we may have missed the first bajillion number of times that we’ve heard them.
So, in essence, we are trying to look at something old or familiar and see something…brand new…
Luke 15 tells the story of the prodigal son. It’s the third of three different lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally this lost son.
It begins in verse 11:
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
We are so familiar with this story. This younger son tells his father that he wishes that he were dead. He’s asking for his inheritance, which only comes after the father has passed away. He is insulting the name of his father and saying “You don’t know how to run my life. I do. I want you to die so I can have the money that you’ve promised me.”
But his father, wounded from the words of his son, decides to give his youngest son what he is asking for. He gives him what he’s asking for. Then a few days later, the youngest son goes off into a far away city and spends every single cent that he had.
All of his wealth, all of his possessions are gone.
Then a famine hits, and he and the rest of the country are in great need of food and water. He picked up a job working with pigs, which is against Jewish law, and he was so hungry that he desired to eat pig slop.
He would rather bury his head into the trough next to the pigs than go another day with starving.
But the passage continues…
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“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.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘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.
Though his son rejected him, the father appears to have been waiting for his son’s return. When he saw the silhouette of his son on the horizon, the dad did what was unheard of at this time. He began to sprint towards his son. He was filled with compassion. The word there in greek is a form of the word splagchnizomai.
Say it with me: splahnk need zo my
This is my favorite word in Greek. It means compassion but it’s more accurately understood as a feeling of affection deep in the gut or bowels.
Have you ever felt that? A love or affection for someone so deep it’s as if your stomach hurts? Or that you feel like you have butterflies?
That’s what this father feels for his son. He accepts him back and restores him as his son, his own son who was considered to be dead has now been made alive and invited back into the family.
It’s the happiest of happy endings…
But Scripture continues.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’”
This older son’s reaction is totally normal. In fact, it’s honestly how I would probably react if I were him.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone got something that they didn’t deserve? Maybe it was as little as a piece of candy, or a sum of money, or maybe they got to start in your sport over you. But when things happen or are given to people who don’t deserve them, we have a tendency to over-react. We get angry. We get upset. We scream That’s not fair!.
And we’re right. It isn’t fair.
What the father shows to his youngest son — the son who abandoned the family — the process of giving his son a banquet and inviting him back into the family is called grace and grace is messy. It’s really off putting. It strikes us as unfair because it isn’t fair. Someone who absolutely does not deserve something receives it anyways. And they are given it gladly.
The brother’s reaction makes perfect sense. The father is doing something that goes against what is normal in culture. He abandoned the family. He dishonored the family. He threw away all of his wealth and possessions to live a lifestyle that is selfish.
But when grace feels unfair to us,
when what the father does for his son upsets us
that’s also selfish
That’s us aligning with the older brother and saying, “What about me? What do I get from this? Shouldn’t I get and award for not acting like he did?
It’s the definition of being selfish. When we respond this way, it’s because we are only looking out for ourselves or because we think that it’s okay for the brother to only be looking out for himself.
So typically, when you hear this passage, the person teaching it lands in one of two places. He or she will ask, “Are you the younger brother?
Are you the one who is throwing away what God has given you? Are you the person that is ignoring what God has gifted you with in this life and basically spitting in his face and telling him you wished he were dead?”
It’s a really heavy question, but I don’t think it’s the right one.
The other thing that could happen is that the person speaking asks
“Are you the older brother?”
Are you the brother who is obsessed with getting what you deserve? Are you the person who would rather see someone else eating pig slop than be eating at the table with you? Are you the person who wants to see people punished for their actions instead of offered second chances?
But again, I don’t think that’s the right question.
Then they might ask
Are you the father?
But I don’t think this is right either because the father’s love for his son is perfect.
We, as humans, are so totally flawed. And, while we can offer grace and forgiveness to people, what the father is offering his son goes so much further beyond what we are able to offer to others. The father offers his son a new life. A new beginning. We can’t do that because only God can do that.
So, then, what is the right question?
When we begin to focus in on characters, we start to see how each of their actions is something that we are capable of doing, or have already done, right?
Like when you hear about the first son rejecting his father, maybe you resonate with that and a part of it really hits home for you.
When you hear about the father inviting his son back, you think, “Oh well I’ve done that before. I’ve offered grace. That makes me pretty good.”
When you hear about the second son raging at his dad because he’s letting his brother eat that the table, maybe you embarrassingly see yourself in his reactions.
We go back and forth trying to compare and contrast our personalities with these characters, and forget that maybe we aren’t supposed to see similarities in any of them.
We obviously don’t want to be the first son — squandering all of his father’s riches and glory to run off and live a lifestyle that is unbelievably selfish and dishonorable.
We also, don’t want to be the second son — the one who never tapped into the resources that the father cultivated for his use. The son who is equally selfish in his anger and aggression towards his dad.
And, though there are so many great things about his character, we have to realize that we aren’t the father. We don’t have that power. We don’t have that authority.
Instead, we are the audience.
The purpose of this story isn’t for us to pick a character like you pick your starting Pokemon and say “I want this one because of reasons.” It’s for us to listen to and gain insight into how God, our perfect father in heaven works. How the Kingdom of God is so upside down in the best ways. How he works beyond what the normal human brain would be willing to do and because of that everything is perfect and he is in control of all things.
The purpose of this story is to say “You are not perfect. We are not perfect.” But when we have moments of selfishness. When our sinful nature takes control and we make decisions that aren’t actually healthy and don’t produce growth, God still wants us to return to him.
This passage isn’t about a son.
This passage isn’t about his brother.
This passage isn’t just about a father.
The passage is about how we answer this question:
Do you trust that God is big enough to forgive you?
That is the right question. That is the one that really matters. Do you believe that God is bigger than all of your issues. All of your fears. All of your doubts. All of your pain. All of your struggles.
Do you believe that?
Will you let him heal you?
Will you turn to God and give it all over to him and release yourself from those burdens?
You can respond right now, by laying it all down to him — by letting go of your baggage and hurts and letting God take control.