02: THE PRODIGAL FATHER (PART 2)
Special Focus: Reminder regarding 2020 Fast Forward
- We are continuing our series entitled “HOME”
- One of the strongest themes of Christmas for most of us is ‘family’ – right at the core of our vision here at TCC is to be a spiritual family. Right at the core of Christmas is about God the Father sending His only son to save us, so we can be welcomed into family.
- When you are part of a family then you have a home – the dictionary defines it as the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household
- Over the next several weeks I want to talk about a family, and a home, and how God’s heart/character was revealed through them.
Luke 15:1-2, 11-24
- We are focusing on the parable of the Prodigal Father – it’s often called the Prodigal Son but we see clearly that Jesus said the story was about a father with two sons… not a son with a father and a brother.
- Jesus told this parable to answer the Scribes and Pharisees who were scandalized by the fact that Jesus ate with Tax Collectors and Sinners.
- They were deeply offended by this, but Jesus told them this parable to illustrate the heart of God the Father, and the heart that he walked in. Many Bible scholars believe that this parable offended them so deeply that it was at this point that they decided that Jesus must die.
- The first part of the parable focuses on the first son, who did something incredibly offensive when he asked for his inheritance, which was usually given when a father died. The Father granted his request even though this would have brought even greater public shame on the Father.
- The son left, wasted it all, and then returned destitute – but even when he was a long way off the Father saw him, had compassion on him, ran to him, hugged him, kissed him and welcomed him home. He gave him his best robe, the family ring (of authority), put shoes on his feet and killed the fattened calf and threw a party.
- All of this would have been very shameful in the eyes of the community as they would have felt the son should have been disowned and punished, Father’s never ran to sons and definitely didn’t welcome them home with a party.
- This all illustrates the heart of God the Father towards us – who gives prodigal grace and forgiveness to us and welcomes us home. The God of the Universe “picks up His skirts and robes and runs to us” and embraces us fully even though we do not deserve it!
Luke 15:25-34 (ESV)
- You will remember that this story was about a Father with two sons. We are meant to learn as much from the second son as we do from the first.
- We will see that he broke his father’s heart as well, and shamed his father, just as the younger son did
- “There are two types of sinners: lawbreakers and law keepers. Both are in need of grace” – Darrell Johnson
Once again, let’s dig a little deeper into the text:
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 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.’
- We see the older son was in the field working and he came home unaware of what had gone on.
- We also see that he was immediately suspicious. Rather than going into the house to see what the party was about he called one of the servants out to ask him what was going on.
- You would think that he would automatically assume that something wonderful had happened and would go inside to find out what but he did not. Something is very wrong with this picture.
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,
- Instead, we see that he was angry and refused to go in
- Let’s start with the fact that he was angry. Why was he angry?
- He was angry because his brother has brought incredible shame on himself, his family and the village. Furthermore, he was angry with his father because rather than punishing the son and rejecting his request the Father had granted it bringing even more shame on himself and his family. They were now ’that family’
- Now, when the son had come home, with “egg on his face” so to speak, rather than being shamed and punished, or even outright rejected, the Father had welcomed him home and threw a party! This would have brought even further shame upon him and his family.
- The older son was absolutely furious, and we can see it by his actions because he refused to go in. Why is this a big deal?
- Dr. Kenneth Bailey, a theologian, points out in his book The Cross and the Prodigal that in the middle-east the children are expected to be present when a party is thrown for an honoured guest. The Eldest son was expected to act as the host for the party, and move amongst the guests welcoming each one. By refusing to go in the Eldest son was shaming his Father in front of the entire village.
- Furthermore, Baily points out that the Eldest Son was expected to serve the honoured guest their meal. This was a way of saying you are so honoured that you are more important than my eldest son. By refusing the son brought further shame on his Father.
- Finally, by refusing to go in and stay outside, he was publicly disagreeing with his Father which was incredibly shameful in that culture and time. He could have easily gone in and fulfilled his duties and expressed his anger to his Father privately, but he did not. He shamed him in front of all.
- We see in this that the elder son broke his Father’s heart as well. And we will see that it may have been even worse than the younger son.
- What does the Father do? In that culture, the expectation would have been that he would have either ignored his older son or would have gone out and rebuked him and punished him for his dishonour and disrespect and yet he went out to him and entreated him (some translations say “pleaded with him)
- For the second time in one day, the Father goes out to a son, publicly shaming himself. He goes not to condemn or rebuke him but publicly covers his son and takes on his shame.
- In the first half of the story, we discover that God the Father takes on the shame of law-breaking sinners. Here, in the second half, we discover that God takes on the shame of law-keeping sinners. The father loves both sons. God’s scandalous love is for sinners and tax-collectors… and for scribes and Pharisees. What a picture of the Holy One Jesus is painting! – Darrell Johnson
- So how did the Eldest son respond?
29 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. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
- Now, how does the older son respond to this scandalous love? The younger son was humbled by it … and let the father love him. What does the older son do? Ready? He further insults his father! – Darrell Johnson
- He starts by saying “Look…” – there is no honorific title or respectful response. Even when the younger son wanted his inheritance he at least started with “Father…”
- As Kenneth Bailey says: “The younger son was a rebel and knew it. His brother is a rebel and does not know it” (Cross, 71).
- He reveals that his friends are not his father’s friends. They had separate worlds.
- In attacking his younger brother and accusing him of wasting his wealth on prostitutes (which he actually had no way of knowing for sure) he was attacking his Father who welcomed him home
- He calls into question his Father’s intelligence and grip on reality
- Perhaps worst of all, he reveals that his relationship with his Father was more about ’serving and obeying’ then love. He kept the rules and did what he was supposed to do… but was totally out of touch with the heart of his Father.
- It’s interesting in that he was living what the younger son was going to request: the life of a servant.
- So the Arab scholar Ibrahim Sa’id writes: “Thus the older son is no better than the prodigal son who took his portion and traveled into a far country. The difference between them is that the prodigal son was an ‘honorable sinner’ in that he was perfectly open to his father. He told his father all that was in his heart. But the older brother was a ‘hypocritical sinner’ because he hid his feelings in his heart. He remained in the house all the while hating his father. (Quoted by Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 198)
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
- We see that the older son has shamed his Father publicly by refusing to come inside. Furthermore, when His Father pleads with him to come in, he insults him publicly and vehemently disagrees with what He is doing.
- At this point again, the expectation would have been that he would have disciplined his son and ordered him to do his duty but once again the Father further humiliates himself and responds ’scandalously’
- “My son” is the Greek word “teknon” and is very tender and affectionate. It could be translated “my child, my child”
- He reminds his son that he is always with him and everything he has is his
- He opens up his heart and shares about how excited and glad he is and encourages him to join him in his joy
If the message to the younger son is “come home,” the message to the older son is “come in.” Come into the father’s heart. All those years the older son thought he was in the father’s house because he was so good, so faithful, so obedient. So when the younger son gets to come home freely, without having to serve for a while, without having to first conform to all the rules, the older brother is jealous and angry. Scribes and Pharisees think their relationship with God is based on their performance and character. They therefore demand that sinners and tax-collectors relate to God on the same basis: performance and character. Whenever you and I think we are in the family of God, in the kingdom of God because we earned it, we will expect others to earn their place too. But we did not earn it! Hear the words of the pleading father: “My child, my child. Thank you for all your service. Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for seeking to be holy. But that is not why you belong to me. You are my child simply because I love you.” – Darrell Johnson
Our God, the creator of the Universe, is the God who scandalously, and unconditionally loves prodigal sons/daughters, and older “pharisee” sons/daughters and welcomes them all home.
So How Does This Story End?
- The Elder Son could have been won over by his Father and come into the house. The other possible ending finds the older son hardening his heart.
- This ending finds the older son deciding that he must now vindicate the name of the family which the father has shamed. So Kenneth Bailey cautiously speculates: “Is not he end of the story this: ‘Then the elder son in great anger took his stick and beat his father’?” (Cross, 73). Is that not what the scribes and Pharisees ended up doing? They could not handle Jesus’ portrait of the Holy One’s heart. So, in the name of holiness, they killed the Holy One’s self-manifestation. The accusation “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them” gave way to “crucify! crucify! crucify Him!” And they did. They killed the embodiment of the Father’s love…. And then, from the cross… comes one more scandalous word. “Father… forgive them… for they know not what they do. – Darrell Johnson
This Christmas, let’s remember that the God of the Universe, sent His only begotten son to die on a cross, so we could be welcomed home.