15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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. 13 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 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! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 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. 21 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.’ 22 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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, New Revised Standard Version)
When our oldest son Wayne was living at home, we experienced the problems parents of teenagers often face, while the child is growing up. Before we parents are ready, many times before the child finished high school, often before the law says they are an adult, they decide they are grown and as such we should allow them to make their own rules and decisions. Living by mom and dad’s rules isn’t important. Because it isn’t important to them, it shouldn’t be important to us either.
On the other hand, parents recognize the need to maintain order and control. Sometimes there is another child at home who thinks what is good for older sibling is OK for them too. There are also legal issues and we are probably not interested in running afoul with the law.
Now we have a formula almost always guaranteeing conflict. It happened in our house shortly before Wayne’s 17th birthday and continued for some time.
The first rule of the Broyles house was honesty. This wasn’t a problem with Wayne. He is honest to a fault. If you ask him, he will tell the truth. If you fear what the truth might be, never, ever ask Wayne the question.
Where we had problems involving the rules with curfew, being home on time, and if he was going to be late, calling and letting us know. None of these bothered Wayne. All were important to me. I wanted him home on time because others in the house had to work the next day. No one came into the house, except for Cindy, without canine doorbell going off, me included. When Wayne came in at three in the morning, I always knew the Sheltie we had at the time would let me know. Cindy might sleep through it, not me. Neither would the neighbors three houses down. Glory the four-legged creature at our house would let me know when all was not well in his opinion.
Being on time, I thought came from military service. It was a big deal there. As a result, I always thought late means late means late. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t be that strict but at the time, yeah, I was.
Wayne didn’t see any importance in any of this. He always thought he should be able to keep his own schedule and make up his own rules.
I am not asking you to choose sides. It wouldn’t matter. I think you can see; conflict was inevitable. It happened regularly. Wayne was determined to make his own rules. He joined the Marines. We’ve had a few laughs about that.
It is a matter of respect. Rules are part of life. We may not like the rules we may find them hard or difficult, but we stay at someone’s house, we by their rules. If we receive a paycheck, we work by the boss’s rules. We play the game; we go by the rules. We live in or visit a country; we go by the rules.
Wayne saw himself as an adult. He felt we should respect him, allowing him to make his rules. He didn’t understand, respect works both ways. It came down to, “my house, my rules,” and the Marines.
Life has rules. We learn that as kids. We may not agree with or like the rules, we may not think them fair or see them as contradictory, but we learn to live with those rules.
“Well Keith, what about criminals? They ignore the rules.” I don’t agree. In their social structure there are rules, written or unwritten, that define the group. Also, if you ignore the rules of society long enough you pay the consequences.
I wonder if this age-old conflict between parent and child might have prompted the departure of the younger son in our lesson. As Jesus tells the story we see the son’s departure. We are not told why. That makes the story more universal, after all, the story isn’t told as a real, true story. It’s a parable, true in application, not details. Something did prompt him to leave his father’s house. As I’ve thought about this parable, I see a young man who believes he can’t live with the rules of house. The story leads us to think the father is in charge, so his rules too much for the younger son. He thought he had to be on his own.
The younger son decides to make his way in the world, make his own rules and set his schedule. He didn’t want to farm the ground or keep after the stupid sheep and cows. He wanted to be on his own and accountable to no one.
He does something that to most of us is unthinkable. I’m not sure it would have been much different then. He goes to his father and says, “Give me my part of the inheritance now.” Some commentators say was like saying, “Hey dad, I wish you were dead.” I think it’s even stronger. I think it means, “Hey dad, you are dead to me. Give me my money.” Those are some strong words.
For all the problems Wayne and I had, I give him credit, he said nothing like that. Think it, perhaps but he never said it. He was tired of “My house, My rules.” I guess the younger son was too.
Despite the son’s meaning, the father did as his son asked, and the son took off.
It wasn’t long before the son was out of money and luck. The real world crashed on top of his head. He made a monumental mistake. Thinking on his situation, he realized his father’s employees were better off than he. Maybe it was time to head home and see if he could get part of his old life back. Maybe, his father would hire him to work on the farm. Even that would be better than the life he was living. So, he headed for home.
He gets home and starts apologizing for all he did. It was a touching scene. He says, “Dad, I have sinned against you.” and I think the father hears the words many parents of prodigals here. “Dad, I should have listened to you.” The son went on, “I no longer deserve to be called your son, make me one of your hired hands.”
The father would have none of it. He turned to a servant and said, “Go get a robe and ring and give it to him. Let’s have a barbecue. My son is home.”
That is grace. Grace can overcome the deep hurts and wounds to say, “I love you and I forgive you.” It is a love that most parents have for their child. It is a picture of unconditional love. Even if that child says, “You are dead to me,” this love responds, “Yes, you may think that, but I love you anyway.”
That’s the love God has for us. These two tell us what the story is about. The son sins and the father forgives. That is the point. We sin and God forgives. The grace of the father in the story is the grace God gives us. No matter our sins, God loves us and will forgive us. God pours grace on us. We may turn away, but God waits for us and loves us.
God expects us to share forgiveness and love with each other. Whether with a member of our family, our neighbor, someone in our church, someone across town, or the other side of the world, God calls us to love and forgive. It isn’t always easy, but it is part of our call, love God and love neighbor.
Not everyone understands that. When the older son comes home, hearing the barbeque, refuses to go. His father comes to encourage him. Still he refuses. He is unable to forgive. Grace is not present for his brother.
Just as we don’t know what caused the younger brother to leave, we also don’t know if the older brother ever came around. It’s probably safe to assume life at this home returned to some semblance of normal in a fairly short period of time.
In his book Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household, Steven W Manskar plays a little with the story. He asks the question, “What if Jesus had not stopped here?” He proposes an alternate ending saying, What if Jesus were to add another chapter called, ‘The Morning After?’ The chapter would begin the morning after the celebration of the younger brother’s return.
It’s five o’clock in the morning and it’s still dark outside. The younger brother is sound asleep in his bed after a long night of eating and drinking. There was a loud knock on his bedroom door. No answer. Another know, louder this time. Now he stumbled out of bed and opened the door. He is greeted by his older brother, the guy who was so angry with him that he wouldn’t join the party the night before. This time the older brother grins as he tells his little brother, “It’s after five in the morning! It’s time to get to work, dad and I have been carrying your load around here while you were off having a good time. Now it’s time you started carrying your own weight. There’s plenty of work to do. Let’s get at it! Oh, and by the way, welcome home, little brother!”
Manskar continues: The younger brother, while happy to be home, forgot the responsibilities that go along with life in the father’s house. There was work to be done every day and everyone had a job to do. It was time for him to get to work, to pick up where he had left off when he had departed. His brother was only too happy to remind him that living in their father’s house meant living by the household rules.
My friends, we live in the father’s house. We need to live by the Father’s
In Search of the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved