I’ve known the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) since I was a child growing up in Scotland. It was told in somber tones, a warning of what could happen to the best of children from the best of families if they ever got too big for their boots. There was only one villain in the piece: the boy who said, “I want my share of your estate now before you die.”
We’d all shake our little Scottish Baptist heads at this selfish, ungrateful child. He might have redeemed himself if he’d used the money to open a home for unwed mothers or a shelter for stray dogs. But no, “This younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”
I wasn’t quite sure what “wild living” was, but I knew it wasn’t good.
Then came the part of the story where this wretched ingrate crawled back home. Tension mounted as we wondered, once again, what kind of reception he’d receive. It never got old. “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
That part always made me cry. Perhaps it was because I grew up without a father; but for whatever reason, it tapped into a desperate longing deep inside.
There was another son, but he didn’t get as much room on the stage. When he heard that his father had thrown a party for his worthless brother, “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.”
We all totally got that. It was so unfair. “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.”
In the end the story confused me. It seemed the bad kid won everything, while the boy who did the right thing was royally slapped in the face.
I was missing the whole point of the story.
It isn’t really about the two boys… it’s about the Father.
It’s about our Father with a heart of blazing love for His children, for all His children —for those who feel they got it all right, and for those who are sure they got it all wrong.
But there’s more to this picture.
I’ve been stuck in this story. For two full years I’ve felt compelled to stay there. I’ve read and re-read it, over and over again. This morning, though, as I sat outside thinking it through once again, it was as if God pulled back the curtain and I heard the story for the first time.
The first boy in the story represents those who have rejected the Father’s love and given themselves to any kind of pleasure or pain this world has to offer. There are many of them in our nation. This “freedom” has cost them dearly. They have not understood that the home and life the Father had given them was never intended to limit them but to keep them safe, and to let them enjoy true freedom.
The other brother is the Church. It’s deceptively easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. I lived that way for the first thirty years of my life. I wanted to be the perfect Christian so God wouldn’t get mad at me and leave, the way my father did.
Self-righteousness is a paper-thin disguise. All it takes is for one messed-up ‘loser’ to come wandering home and our claws come out.
And this is a picture of where we are now as the Church in our country.
We are a nation in a mess. I find it hard to engage in the usual social media sites; there is so much bitterness and rage spewed out every day. Some of it is directed at Christianity. Tragically the Church often picks up the very same tools and fights our battles in exactly the same way.
To fight our fights that way is to miss our moment in history: our chance to love the prodigal as the Father loves the prodigal.
This is a critically important year for America as we appoint our next President. We as the Church must remember nevertheless, no matter who puts their hand on the Word of God on inauguration day, God is sovereign. If we forget that we are living as those with no hope.
Support whomever you want. Vote for the person that you believe best represents the values you hold dear. But never for a moment forget Christ’s words,
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35 NLT)
This could be our moment in history — our moment to turn around the big-brother ending of the Prodigal Son story. If our opinions are louder than our love, though, we have failed in our God-given mission.
So let me ask you this, what would it look like if in our day we rewrote the ending of parable of the Prodigal Son?
What if the older brother got to the broken boy even before the father did? What if we were the ones to run to the lost, the angry, the hurting?
The father ran to the boy because no one else would … but we could.
If we will drop our rags of self-righteousness and stand with open arms, ready to welcome home the broken and disillusioned, then we will be the answer to Christ’s prayer. We will be living as the beautiful Bride of Christ.
We won’t get this moment back. People are angry. They are fed up with speeches and promises that don’t change a thing. This is our divinely gifted moment to get on our knees and pray. To change a nation you must change a heart — and it must begin with us. Every day is a new opportunity to ask God to give us eyes to see the opportunities all around us; to give us ears to hear beyond the anger; to develop a heart to ache with others’ pain.
There is more at stake here than the Oval office. There is a nation deeply in need of Christ; a nation that needs to know there is a Father who loves them, who is waiting eagerly to throw them the biggest welcome-home party they ever heard of.
This is our moment in history. What kind of big brother will we be?