Having spent a lifetime in church and having been exposed to stories and parables found in the bible, I was confident I knew most of what there was to know about the very familiar ones.
“From the other side of grace” however, I am finding there are many different views that I never noticed before. My mind races with thoughts and insights that have to be shared.
My favorite parable has always been the story of the prodigal son. I love the unconditional love of the father in the story. I love that fact that he never gave up on his boy. I love that he welcomed him home with open arms no matter how far he had fallen. The father spared no expense to celebrate. He held nothing back. He didn’t accept him back but then place him on probation to see if he deserved to be his son again . . . he just opened his heart and his home and cried with joy.
Fast forward to today. How does the church handle failure? There are evangelical churches that have become very good at welcoming the “outsiders” in. Due to their efforts to present the message of Good News in an attractional manner these churches fill up with people who are referred to as being lost, unchurched, or seekers. It’s not a bad thing and every effort is made to welcome them into growing relationships with Christ. My question is, how are we with insiders that fail?
As I reread the story of the prodigal this week I was taken not by the father or the wayward son who came to his senses and returned home, but by the response of the other brother.
Jesus told this parable to give us insight into the mercy, grace and love of our Heavenly Father. There is no question the prodigal son failed over and over until he was out of options. But when he came home and unexpectedly received the unconditional and extravagant love of his father, the other brother lost it. Read and listen to his part of the story:
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15:26-32 NLT
I have come to believe that Jesus told this story and two others in Luke 15 for one major reason and that is so the church or body of Christ on earth should never forget the heart of our Father in heaven. I am afraid we take people’s failures personal. Especially someone that was once “one of us.” We decide that shunning, being hateful, boycotting, gossiping and rejection are the way to go.
All of that mercy, compassion and grace we sing and preach about drains out of us and we move on and away from the prodigal or fallen man or woman. In fact, if that person professes to have felt the embracing and forgiving arms of the Heavenly Father or the extravagant love of His unfailing mercy we privately roll our eyes and figure the person is just self deceiving themselves. I don’t get it. I’ve been there and done it in my smugness and the comfort of my insider status but I don’t understand it. I’ve asked God to break my heart for the broken. When you think about the other brother and his conversation he is right. It’s not fair. He was faithful. He didn’t fall. He did do everything right.
But God. . . who is rich in mercy . . .
My prayers is that all Christians will develop the heart of the Father for all people. Listen to the final words of the other two parables in Luke 15:
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!“ Luke 15: 6-7 NLT
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Luke 15:9-10 NLT
From personal experience I can tell you that the Father still waits and welcomes those who return to Him. I can also tell you that there are still some of us who have the heart of the “other brother.” My prayer is that God never lets me have that kind of heart again. I am so thankful for His love and grace and His unfailing mercy.