Sermon, The Layman’s View
September 22, 2013
Tale of Two Sons
An Educational Psychologist was on a flight to Florida and was happy to have the time to prepare notes for one of the parent-education seminars she was leading.
The elderly woman sitting next to her explained that she was returning to Miami after having spent two weeks visiting her six children, 18 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren in Boston. Then, she asked the psychologist what she did for a living.
After explaining, the psychologist fully expected the older woman to question her for professional advice. Instead, she sat back, picked up a magazine and said, “If there’s anything you want to know, just ask me.”
Today, we’re on the subject of family and interesting behavior in brothers, one we criticize for being very selfish while empathizing with the one disgusted with his father and brother.
Developing a series of lessons from Luke was not intentional, but the flow from story to story is so remarkable that it happened regardless. Over this series we have seen an interesting thread that is rarely noticed unless we identify the commonality.
Humanity, loaded with self-serving emotion and self promotion, behaves contrary to God’s instruction and to the example so clearly lived and explained by Yeshua himself. The fact that the Master was sent to earth to bring success to us while we crucified Him for His efforts, is proof that when given our own ways of power, politics and self interest, we fail. We have been given the path to success in every area of our lives, yet the demon of self interest keeps its grip on our souls and makes us feel good when we appear to win over others.
The passage in Luke 15, verses 11 through 32 is well known as the story of the Prodigal Son. This guy wanted to go his own way, serving his own selfish desires by taking what power his father’s wealth was going to afford him when inherited, to use it now. In this case, daddy gave into his son’s scheme and gave him the money ahead of the inheritance, which was money not earned. Since the younger son had no skin in the game, as we would say, he behaved like the rest of selfishly-minded humanity and blew it all. Were his actions not like those of people today who get free money? This guy was not thinking about his future, only the way he felt at the moment. We know this by what he spent the money on, which included extravagant living and pleasure. There were no credit cards at the time, yet you know he would have maxed one out had it been available.
Sure enough, this young man failed to plan, so he planned to fail! The money was gone. When the shock wore off that he had no more groceries, he decided he had better find work or find something to eat, somewhere. What he had ignored was the famine around him. How selfish and stupid does one have to be to ignore conditions of neighbors and friends? Are we all not connected by economic conditions, even in our time?
Finally, this guy took note of his plight, realizing that even his father’s hired help had food to eat and were not destitute like him. His search for food among hog producers in the area turned up nothing. He was hungry but still realized that even pigs had something to eat. Remember that swine were used for making sandals and other products used by the Jewish community. While eating pork was forbidden, walking on products from pigs was not.
To stay alive, this guy had but one choice; go home. His father had given him a significant portion of his wealth, and this guy, in his stupid choices, blew it all, still, his papa had money and food. As we would anticipate a very angry father after squandering so much money, so did he. However, going home meant life, and refusing to eat humble pie meant death.
As the story goes, father either posted someone to watch for the son to return, or he was watching himself. This makes us wonder if he knew the boy better than we think. Regardless, when daddy saw son coming from a great distance, orders were given to get the party started as he ran down the road to meet his really crazy kid.
Verse 20 indicates that the father kissed his son as the boy confessed by saying, “I have sinned before heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son.”
What would you do in this situation? Would your response be tough love saying, “Sorry son, you’ve blown it. Don’t expect any more from me. Stay in a tent out here in the yard until you’ve learned your lesson.” Would you say, “Why can’t you be like your brother?”
His brother; Ah, that’s another issue. You see, the man’s brother behaved like a human with hate in his heart, without compassion, much like we see even in some Christians today. When the oldest son of the father noticed commotion around the farmhouse from his vantage point in the field, he called one of the hired hands over to ask what was going on.
The answer was a good one. “Your brother has come; and your father has killed the fat ox because he received him safe and well.”
What was the older brother’s response? Verse 28 reads, “He became angry and would not go in; so his father went out to talk to him.” It’s true; the older brother was seeing what happened from a self-promotion viewpoint, or temper tantrum. It wasn’t fair that his younger brother took a vacation on family money when he stayed and worked in the fields. But what did the older brother expect his father to do? Of course, the expectation was from a selfish motive. Did he think the wayward brother should be banned from the family? Should he be shunned and never spoken to again? Perhaps the gossip mill should punish him. Did older brother want to beat his younger brother out of anger? If this were a church situation, should the wayward son be excommunicated, talked about or kicked out?
Older brother got rather specific with the father, “How many years have I served you, and never disobeyed your commandment; and you never gave me even a kid that I might make merry with my friends.” He continued, “but for this son of yours, after he had wasted your wealth with harlots and come back, you have killed the fat ox.” We would say it this way, “Seriously, father, why are you spending even a dime on a party for this bum! You’ve never given me a party. It just isn’t fair! Why can’t you recognize me with a celebration? I’ve always done everything you asked!”
The father replied with what we would not want to hear, given a similar situation, since we would not believe it. He said, “My son, you are always with me, and everything which is mine is yours. It is right for us to make merry and rejoice; for this your brother was dead and has come to life; and was lost and is found.”
Can you see that the older brother represents us, humanity who is within the household of the Almighty? We, brothers in Christ, behave just as the older brother in this story. As workers in the kingdom of God, we keep our shoulders to the wheel, working to produce for the kingdom. When one of our brothers strays we don’t like it when our Father is happy with their return, particularly if they return with a talent better than ours. Is it uncommon for a Christian to stray from God? And is it too common that when that one returns, there is condemnation, gossip and criticism? If the offense is too severe in our eyes, we don’t welcome them back at all but behave like a Pharisee, point out their faults then campaign against them.
In this story told in Luke 15, the decision made to try another life and live off of the Father’s bounty was something decided by the son, and since there is always free will, God allowed the young man to go his own way, test his misguided code of conduct, yet because the Father so loved the son, there was great rejoicing—yes, even a party, when the boy returned to the real source of wealth.
Remember how the shepherd earlier in the same chapter, rejoiced when he found the one sheep that was lost? The woman who lost one coin worked until she found it, then she too called her friends to come party with her so her happiness could be expressed over the recovery. The same is true for this story of the Prodigal son, with the added element of the human’s will to leave and our response when he returns.
This story is also about how humanity appreciates what is earned over what comes easily. The boy who took off to live it up knew the money was there and that his father could afford to give him his independence, and the boy, who was betting his future on his partying, found out the hard way that human ways don’t work.
And, it’s not just about the money; it’s about family. It’s about living a life that is very unstable with the attitude that it will never end. Wrong! Nothing ends right when we are out of the will of God.
Another very important point of this story is that when the wayward son returned, he instantly acknowledged his sin by saying, “My father, I have sinned before heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son.” What he said is true, yet is the statement not true for his older brother who was working in the field as well? There was no need to argue what was right. Notice that the father didn’t even reply when the boy’s confession was given; rather the father ordered the party to be prepared. It was the confession that reconnected the family, and the same is true for us when we walk away from the Family of God. None of us are worthy to be sons of God, but whether you like it or not, all believers, even the ones you may not like, are in the kingdom of God. We can voice or declare that we don’t accept a brother, but acceptance is not our choice any more than it was the older brother’s option to welcome his brother back home or ban him from his father’s family.
While the return of the son to the family is the preached portion of the story, the relationship between brothers is another important one. It is generally thought that the son who stayed and worked in the fields was the good guy and the one who blew daddy’s cash was the bad guy. On the surface, that’s true. Yet, the older and more stable one had attitude problems that caused a no-response reaction from father. This may have been the first time his true nature was exposed when his “what-about-me” statements were voiced. Does this mean that both boys were actually selfish but only one acted upon that feeling?
This story points out the differences between brothers and their father. The wise one was daddy, who proceeded with rejoicing over the return of a very misguided young man who had to try his own way, even at great expense. Neither brother had come to the point of wisdom so instilled in the father. They both behaved like spoiled children while the father stayed on track, doing what he knew was right in the sight of God.
Each of us has our own walk with God even though we are in the same family. Not one of us is at the same point of spiritual maturity or wisdom as another, and not one of us is more greatly favored by our Father than another. All of us have our place in the family, and jobs to do, even when we look at another with jealousy, or we covet their talent or political position within a church. We all have different gifts intended to further the kingdom of God, and sometimes we delay using those gifts out of selfishness or desire for recognition another might receive.
In today’s world, we are all about everybody getting a trophy and every person winning so we don’t hurt another’s feelings. Self esteem, a product of pop psychology, has caused our society to equally give credit where it is not due. We seem to work hard at making everybody look the same or teach the same message, or bring everybody into compliance as we think they should be. Such thinking is not Biblical.
History is full of stories resulting from inequality within families, including the story of the Lion King, where we have the telling quote, “Everywhere you look, I’m standing in the spotlight.” These words could have come from the younger brother in this story from Luke 15. Despite our desire for sameness, we will never be the same as another. There will always be greater and lesser than we, even within the same families. The sooner we realize that and take our rightful roles within the kingdom of God, the sooner life will be as God intended for you and me.
Ancient Egypt also had a tale of two brothers that dates back to around 1200BC. Find and read this story that relates how believing a lie can ruin the best of family relationships and how extreme measures were taken to establish the sibling bond again. The brothers were Anubis and Bata.
Does it matter that we separate from each other because of lies, suspicion, jealousy, politics, selfishness or pride? Oh yes, it does matter. Can you find one thing in that list that is of God or permitted in His Word?
A bigger question is; can we reconcile with God and remain alienated with each other? John 13:35 answers, “By this every man shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” Comparable love is expressed in the answer in the father’s response to the older son in the Prodigal Son story. He told the son who was so faithful, “My son, you are always with me, and everything which is mine is yours.” Without patience and grace, the father could have chastised this son for his attitude and said, “If that’s the way you feel about it, I’m taking you out of my will.” What the father wanted was for this older son to join the celebration and rejoice that his brother returned to the family relationship and all it means.
Can you rejoice that there are some in the family of God who are greater than you or appear favored? How do you treat those who are lesser? Do you covet another’s gift or complain that yours is not recognized? Do you refuse to worship with someone you judge to be out of God’s will, or lovingly bring them into the comfort of family?
Whether we learn family dynamics through experience, such as the great-grandmother on the plane, or education as earned by the psychologist, we must remember that the dynamic and code of conduct within the family of God is important to understand and practice. Relationships with God and each other are equally important in our Father’s eyes. The total of Christianity comes down to the truth as presented and practiced by Messiah, to live in love with God and each other, and to bring peace and joy to the world within and around us. Anything short of this is giving in to the enemy of our souls.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.
©2013, J. Tilton