Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Son Who Had It All (But Squandered It)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

We can all identify to a degree with the story of the son who had it all. Everything his father had was his. But we also know the very sad decision he made to squander it all. To treat it as if it was something that was his by right and take for granted his father’s lavish love and blessings.

And we all know how his father grieved for his son. Longing for him to come to his senses. To join in on the celebration of being part of the household. Rather than think about himself, enjoy being part of such a wonderful home in the first place instead of throwing it all away.

But we can sympathize with this son. We can understand what it was like for him. Feeling like a prisoner. Feeling like everything he did was because it was expected. And we can see why he felt the way he did, probably feeling jealous toward his brother. Maybe feeling like he had to get out, like there must be something better on the outside. As it was, he felt like he wasn’t getting what he deserved.

And to top it all off, his dad seemed to treat his younger brother more lavishly than him. And the younger brother certainly didn’t deserve it! Not like he did! Not after what his younger brother did in taking his inheritance and wasting it upon himself. But there was dad, throwing a big party for him.

Oh. You thought I was talking about the younger son; the Prodigal Son. And yes, he did indeed have it all and squandered it all. He didn’t deserve anything from his father after what he did, and yet his father lavished his love upon him.

But the older son, we don’t hear much about him. He gets mentioned at the end of the whole story, almost as if in passing. But there’s a lot to be learned from that son who stayed home when the younger brother ran away.

We probably identify more with the Prodigal Son. We can see ourselves in this young man who had it all and then threw it all away. In his father’s lavish love for him, we see the Heavenly Father’s eternal love for us even though we have gone astray. But we’re more like that older brother than we realize.

We’re not simply sons and daughters of a wealthy man. We’re sons and daughters of the King. All that He has is ours. But how do we treat our Heavenly Father? How do we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ? If we look at that older son we will see how we, too, have it all but squander it.

The Prodigal Son might seem an extreme example to us. Most Christians wouldn’t go to the lengths he did, but we see in it how spiritually we are just like that younger son. The older son might not seem an extreme example to us at all. We might even identify with that older brother. He got short-shrifted. His dad didn’t even invite him in from the fields to the party! After all the good-for-nothing younger brother did, he ended up getting treated like royalty!

The older son got nothing. He was left to work out there in the fields. As he had done faithfully for months on end while his younger brother was off somewhere partying till he dropped. Can’t we understand why the older brother was indignant with his father?

Yes we can. And that’s the very sad part of it all. That is why we are so like the older brother and need to repent as the younger brother did. Notice who the stable one is through all of this is. The father. He waited for his younger son to return home. Now he waits for his older son to come in and join the party. What would have been the response of the older son had he been invited to come in and celebrate? The same. Why does he get a party when I’ve never gotten one?

But the father is patient. Compassionate. Everything I have is yours. You see yourself as deserving a party and your younger brother as deserving of nothing. What you don’t see is that I have lavished everything I have upon you not because you’ve been working out in the fields all these years for me. But because you’re my son. Just as your brother is. I don’t love you any less. I love you both more than you can imagine.

The tragedy of this parable is the older son. The younger son, the poster boy for belligerence against the gracious God, the Prodigal Son, repented of his sin. He confessed to his father that he was not worthy to live under his roof as his son. But not the older son. He was entitled to everything he got. And he deserved even more. He didn’t rejoice with his father and the rest of the household at the rebirth of his brother—he was envious of him. He was guilty, in fact, of the very same sin his brother committed but didn’t even realize it.

He saw his younger brother as the great transgressor. He was unwilling to look in the mirror and realize that everything he possessed was all by the grace of his father. He couldn’t even see that the love his father showered upon his returned brother was the very same love lavished upon himself—day after day! It never ceased. It never waned. It was constant and it was over-flowing.

Yet, the father would let his older son go his own way, just as he had let his younger son go his own way. Lavish love never compels. It only keeps lavishing. This the older brother refused to see. This the younger brother finally came to see.

The father’s heart broke when his younger son left. It broke again when his older son refused his love even though he never physically left. The older son had it all. But sadly he squandered it away.

Will we be able to see in the younger son the hope there is for all of us? Will we come to our senses and repent of our sins so that we may be fed at the table rather than long for the slop of the pigs? Will we see the older son and look in the mirror before it’s too late? Before we squander it all?

Will we see in the waiting father our Heavenly Father who loves us so much that He won’t give up on us? Will we see a God who we’re entitled to get things from, or a God who lavishes more blessings upon us than we can imagine? Will we see in the Heavenly Father the God who loves His sons and daughters so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to wallow around in the pig’s slop of our filth so that we may receive a robe, a ring, and a place at the table?

Then we will see the One who didn’t squander His life but did indeed give it up in our place so that we may have a place with Him in His Kingdom. Amen.


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