Looking at Jesus’ parables recorded in Luke 15, we see that they follow a rather similar pattern that involves three steps:
1. Something/someone extremely precious and valuable is lost
2. The “owner” becomes the “finder”
3. The joyful reunion is unabashedly celebrated.
I also believe that the underlying theme that ties the three stories together is Grace. We can appreciate the subject of Grace, particularly in the parable of the lost son. And we can certainly appreciate that this message of Grace that Jesus is offering is clothed in Forgiveness.
First of all, look at His audience,
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.
Gathered among the Savior of the World were the wretched of the world, the despised, the rejected, the outcast…the ones who knew they needed forgiveness. Jesus was surrounded by people who thirsted for the living water of forgiveness which only flows from the endless fountain of God’s Grace.
There were, however, also those who didn’t get it:
2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
It is no wonder Jesus had said earlier:
47"For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Luke 7: 47
The Pharisees didn’t understand the concept. The kind of grace Jesus was illustrating in the parable of the lost son was inconceivable. He talked about a grace that extended forgiveness generously to a son that didn’t deserve it. And to make matters worse, this forgiveness Jesus was talking about was not just some sort of lip-service. Jesus preached a forgiveness that seeks restauration. The Father not only forgave the undeserving child, but He welcomed him back home and restored him to his righteous place as a son.
It is no wonder that the Pharisees didn’t get it. We have a hard time getting it as well. That is why Jesus elaborates more on this parable by introducing the other son. Jesus recognizes the complexity of the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation by not neglecting the perspective of the offended party.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
It is SO easy to identify with the older brother, isn’t it? At least it is for me. And, I believe it is because, as children of God, we see ourselves as the older brother.
In reality, however, I think we are both.
The thing is that the older son is also lost. Although for a different reason, or a different sin, the seemingly faithful son also walks away. His pride leads him to a place of separation from the Father, just as his lust led the younger son away as well. The older son’s anger kept him from joining in the celebration. His sin kept him out of the banquet.
From our perspective, it is just so clear cut, isn’t it? The younger son does not deserve such open-arms welcome back and other grandiose gestures. He deserves the destitution he got when he went and disowned his family. The older son is right! He sure should not step a foot in that party. He should not be part of such a travesty.
What does the Good Father do?
What else? There is only one thing the Finder can ever do: He leaves everything behind and goes out, seeking for what he has just lost.
In the other two stories, the shepherd and the woman both became the finder right away. Isn’t it interesting that the Father becomes the Finder only when He goes out looking for the older son? He never went looking for the “lost son.” The Father knew he had to let him go so he could hit rock bottom, open his eyes to the truth and then make the decision to come back. Here, however, the Good Father leaves his recently recovered child and the entire party behind to chase and plead with his older son.
We are His children who walk this earth broken by sin. This sin tears us apart from the Father. And it is only His love what brings us back.
As we see, the offended older son doesn’t want any part of it. He yells at his father, instead. “Look at all I’ve done for you, and this is how you repay me?” he seems to say. “Look at all the work I do at the church.” “Look at all the money I give away.” “Look at all the missions I support.” “Look at all the soup kitchens I serve.” “Look at all the ministries I’ve began.” “Look at all the time I dedicate to you.” “And this is how you repay me? By allowing my good-for-nothing-brother to keep more than his share of the inheritance, by giving him a ring, by forgiving him?”
The heart of the Father is poured out. His love for the older son is revealed in the compassion he feels at the witnessing of his hurt:
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’”
I think it is very intentional that Jesus left the story there. We don’t really know if the older son walked alongside his father into the celebratory feast. It’s an open-ended story from that stand point. I believe it is not relevant to Jesus’ point to know what happened. I think the message that Jesus is trying to drill in is the revelation of the heart of the Father and how there is nothing in there that isn’t love, compassion, Grace and forgiveness for each and every one of His children.
Let’s celebrate this truth and embrace the Grace that calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven.