Today, we celebrate the well-loved parabled called the Prodigal Son. I want us to think of it from perhaps a little different perspective. I want us to think about how each one of us, in many ways, has been the youngest son, the father, and the eldest son. Especially as we are in the season of Lent, it is a time of self-examination. So, as we examine ourselves how do we find we have been like The Responsible, The Rebel or The Remarkable?
The Responsible, of course, is the oldest son. I’m starting with the eldest son, because he represents the upstanding religious people, the churchy types, like you and me. Jesus is addressing the pharisees and the religious leaders through him. Sometimes we may be a little self-righteous. We may find ourselves saying things like, "I’m always here. Even when I don’t want to be. I’m always the responsible one. I get up early in the morning, go to bed late at night. I work hard all day long. I work hard at the church. A lot of the other members don’t pitch in, but I always do. I don’t understand these people who never go to church! They just sleep in on Sunday mornings! They’re just a bunch of heathens!"
The Responsible had these kinds of feelings. What he sees is his younger brother, who has gone off and recklessly spent his money, returning home and receiving a big party from his father! So, he stays outside the party and sulks.
In the ancient world, there was no possibility of preserving meat. When guests came, an animal was killed that could be eaten by the guests. If another family came, it would be appropriate to kill a chicken or perhaps a pigeon. If two families came, they might kill a duck or goose. If more came, a goat or lamb was killed. The killing of a fatted calf was done only if the entire village was invited.
So, the entire village is at this party for his brother! The eldest son is distraught that the fatted calf is killed for his brother’s party and he has never even had a party with a few friends with a goat, so he stays outside the party. He resents being The Responsible!
Now, we come to The Rebel. The rebel, of course, is the younger son. Now, some of us may really relate to him as well. Certainly, this is true for all of us in many ways, as I Peter 2:25 says, "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." There is part of each one of us that has played the rebel or continues to be rebellious to God or sinful. Romans calls us enemies of God before we place our faith in Christ, "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life." (Rom. 5:10)
We may have found ourselves thinking things like The Rebel might have thought, "I’m tired of living here! I want to get out and see the world! I’m tired of being good! All these rules and restrictions are so binding! I’m tired of trying to say the right thing or do the right thing! I’ll just say or do something rebellious!"
The Rebel is even bold enough to ask for his share of the inheritance before his father is dead! So, he’s out the door, down the road, as far as he can get from home. He spends all his money on wild living, until he doesn’t have any more money. So, he goes job hunting. The only job he can find is feeding pigs--not the most prestigious job! Now, pigs are not only physcially unclean, but Jewish law considered them ceremonially unclean as well. So, this is definitely as far down as he can go. While he is feeding the pigs, he is so hungry, he wants to eat what they are eating. Then, the scriptures say, "he came to himself." He realizes this fun life he has been seeking is not all he thought it would be. He wants to go home! Then, he remembers, his father’s hired servants even have more to eat than he does. He says to himself, "I will get up and go to my father and say, ’Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called one of your sons. Treat me as one of your hired servants."
He heads back home and it says, while he is still at a distance his father sees him.
Now, we spotlight The Remarkable! The Remarkable Father! While he is still at a distance, his father sees him. I’m sure his father has worried about him constantly. Apparently, the son has not written his father. He didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. The father must have looked expectantly everyday for his son’s return. His father not only sees his son, The Rebel, at a distance, but he runs toward him. For his father to run to him was contrary to all custom. In the Near East, a mature man loses his dignity when he runs, but the father doesn’t care! He runs to him, hugs and kisses him.
The son begins his well-rehearsed speech, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called one of your sons." Before he is able to finish his speech, the father calls the servants over and tells them: "Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him (a special treat only for honored guests), and put a ring on his hand (a symbol of authority, perhaps a family heirloom), and shoes on his feet (slaves were barefoot, sons wore shoes). Bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
There was even futher significance in the killing of the fatted calf. The actual slaughter of the animal would take place in front of the doorway. When the guests would step across the blood of the animal that had been slain, it was a sign that the past had been left behind, that there was a new covenant or new relationship between the host and the honoree. As the son then stepped over the blood of the animal that had been slain, it was a sign of the Remarkable’s total and complete acceptance and forgiveness.
Maybe we’ve been The Rebel. Maybe we’re The Rebel right now. Maybe there’s part of us that needs to repent of our rebellion toward God right now. Maybe we wonder if we have done something so awful that God could never forgive us for it. In this parable, we don’t really know what all the rebel did. We don’t know if it would be horrifying, maybe even shocking. The father doesn’t even ask. He just forgives him, because he has come home--a sign of his repentance. "When he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross." (Col. 2:13-14) Whatever we may have done, Jesus has died for it and it can be nailed to the cross when we turn to him. If we realize what a mess we have made of things and are willing to return home to The Remarkable--the Remarkable God--we are told welcome home!
Then, see how The Remarkable deals with The Responsible. When he discovers that the oldest son is staying outside from the party, he pleads with him to come inside. The Responsible resents it. He refuses to go inside. The father pleads once again, "Join in the party, for your brother was lost and is now found, he was dead and is now alive."
God says the same to us. We may be standing outside the party, not wanting to go in. But God begs us to come inside the party. The party brings love, forgiveness and healing. We are invited with the entire village to share in the party of God’s love!
In the beginning, I said that there is a little bit of The Responsible, The Rebel, and The Remarkable in each one of us. So, here’s some even more good news! We may have been The Responsible or The Rebel, but the great news is this Remarkable God wants to make us Remarkable too. The book of Ephesians states, "until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Eph. 4:13) We are beckoned on to become like Christ. As those who are created and recreated in the image of God, there is some of The Remarkable in each one of us. The Remarkable, who is in us, causes us to love, forgive and bring healing. Even though we have been The Responsible and The Rebel, God wants to make us Remarkable too.