"Please don't tell mom!" I shouted with panic as my younger brother screamed bloody murder. Someone had just punched him in the face. Someone was mean enough to wind up and sock him right in the nose.
That someone, was me.
The Parable of the Lost Son
This morning as I was reading through the Gospel of Luke, I was challenged by what God placed on my heart during the parable of the lost son. You can find the full parable in Luke 15, but to quickly summarize the story:
- A Father has two sons
- The youngest son asks for his inheritance even though his father wasn't dead
- The father gives him his inheritance
- The youngest son wastes the inheritance on sex and partying
- The youngest son feels guilty and returns home to ask his father if he can serve as his slave
- The father sees his son coming home in the distance and has compassion for him
- The father throws a feast for his youngest son's return home
- The oldest son is furious with his father for giving his brother grace
- The father shows his older son compassion, too
The first half of the story is often the half that receives the most attention, and rightfully so. Because Jesus was showing his listeners that God's grace knows no bounds. But what if we have been missing the fullness of Jesus' words this entire time?
What if the son who left wasn't the one Jesus was saying was truly lost? What if the point of the parable was to navigate our attention to the son who stayed home?
What if Jesus was making the point to His listeners that it is easy for them to accept grace when they are broken for it, but rarely do they extend that same grace towards others who need it?
Perhaps, this parable is as much—if not more—about the older son as it is about the younger son. Perhaps Jesus wanted us to understand that the younger son—although he wandered off and squandered his inheritance—still came home and submitted to his father. Perhaps the lost son was always home.
I Am The Older Son
While I was praying over this story, God placed on my heart, "Jordan, you are the older son." My heart broke at this realization. My cynicism and self-righteousness have been at an all-time high lately. I have felt bitter toward those who have hurt me and have battled feelings of entitlement.
But here is what I have been learning from this well-known story: God doesn't desire for me to be the younger son in this story, nor does He want me to be the older son. God wants me to be the one who showed compassion toward both his sons.
"'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.'" Luke 15:31-32 NIV
Jesus wanted His listeners to know that this story was about the father's reaction toward both sons. The first one ends up leaving and returning, while the second one is where I believe Jesus wants the listener to make a decision for themselves. It is kind of like those books you read where the person reading is in charge of the ending they decide. Here is what I mean...
Have you ever wondered why Jesus would leave the story unresolved at verse 32? Why don't we see how the older son responds to the father's statements?
The answer: Because Jesus is giving us—the listener—the chance to decide whether or not we as the "older children," are going to stay self-righteous or choose to follow suit like the younger son and come home. Jesus presents us with the choice: Sit proudly in our sin or humbly surrender it to Him.
I wonder if Jesus was also making the point through this story that the one who stays home is at fault for not chasing after the younger brother. Why do I wonder this? Because just a few moments before sharing this parable, Jesus shared with the same crowd (who in this case were self-righteous Pharisees) the significance of how God leaves the ninety-nine sheep who stayed home, to chase after the one who wandered off.
Jesus then shares a second parable with the same crowd about celebrating after finding a lost coin. He then wraps up story-time by further expressing His desire for those who are home to welcome those who are lost. But maybe Jesus shared all three of these stories one after another because they are supposed to be read together, not individually.
Perhaps the next crucial takeaway from this parable is that the Church is not supposed to be a homebody.
It's easy to fall into the trap of self-righteousness for those of us who aren't out and about visibly squandering that which God has blessed us with. Maybe that is why Jesus says that not everyone who calls on His name will enter the Kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of the Father (see Matthew 7:21).
And honestly, that verse TERRIFIES me. It has taught me how vulgar and consuming pride is. Pride isn't just about believing that I am the best, it is about believing I am better than YOU in any way, shape, or form. Pride is believing I am not lost because I stayed home.
David felt this way too. And so he got on his knees and prayed this gut-wrenching prayer:
"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." - Psalm 139:23-24
Pastor Craig Groeschel taught me how the search me prayer is a dangerous one because it exposes my ugliest sins. For most of us, pride is swept under the rug and is never addressed.
May it never be the case with me.
I still remember my younger brother's reaction after I socked him in the face. It was filled with panic, pain, and deep hurt. He had just witnessed his older brother—someone he looked up to—betray him.
I wonder how different our lives or the lives of others would look, if we relentlessly chased after those who are struggling, hurting, and wandering.
Perhaps we would resemble Jesus.