The story of the prodigal son has always been so fascinating to me. There is just something about the image of a God running like a crazy man that wrecks my legalistic view of law-giving, angry God and draws me back to the humbling reality of the absolute and total ridiculousness of grace.
I have heard so many sermons and talks over the years on this passage. And then there is the ever clever preacher who decides to speak from the perspective of the “other son.” You know, the one who misses the dance party? For shame. What person skips the dance party?
And so we read the story and condemn the self-righteous brother for skipping the party and we thank God we aren’t like some “prodigals” while we pray they will eventually come home. Or maybe we wonder if our life could potentially be considered a “prodigal” life.
“Was I bad enough to be considered a prodigal? Is this my story? I mean, I wasn’t as bad as that guy. I never did drugs or slept around. That dude’s story is definitely a prodigal son story.”
Or if you’re like me, you have a certain sense of jealousy of the guy who walks up on stage during share time at summer camp and tells his story of how he was an addict and God saved him over night and now he reads his Bible every day and helps other addicts. Then you think how you have been a Christian your whole life and you don’t have a ridiculous story of God’s forgiveness and you wonder if you could claim the story of the prodigal as your own or if you’re just the stiff necked brother who got mad he never got a party.
But what if we are both of them? What if we are the son who ran away and we are the son who got mad he didn’t get to two step? What if they aren’t two individuals but two attitudes that stem from the same problem? What if the whole big mess of this dysfunctional family comes from a lack of realization of who the father actually is and what he’s actually about?
Take the son who ran away for example. He went to pops and said he was tired of living at home so he asked for his inheritance which basically meant he was telling his own father he was dead to him and he just wanted to leave. The father gave him what would eventually become his and then the son packs it all up and takes off. Then something interesting happens. The inheritance runs out. He wastes it. There is no more fun to be had and the son realizes the mess he has got himself into. The bible says there was a severe famine in the land. An emptiness. A nothingness. He realizes he’s hungry. Alone. Lost.
We have all felt that, haven’t we? It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not. You have felt the dryness in your heart. You have felt the emptiness in your heart. The thought that there must be something else, something more. It’s like a plant that hasn’t been rained on in weeks. Then you realize you’re hungry.
And then there is the second son. His request of the father isn’t much different from the first son. He looks at dad and says he’s always done everything he’s told. He’s kept all the rules. He’s always checked the boxes. He’s completed the to-do list. Now he wants a party. He wants his dad to pat him on the back and say well done.
And haven’t we all felt that too? Haven’t we all wanted someone to look at us and say, “Good job. Well done. You’re awesome. You did it. You measure up?” Haven’t we all felt like we deserve a party? Especially when the other guys are off running around being wild and crazy and bringing shame to the family.
But here is where the two sons and their requests and actions intersect. They both want more. The first son wants more freedom and so he takes it, runs off with it, and then realizes outside of the reach of his father, he actually has less freedom. In fact, he has found the “more” he had been given runs out and now he is trapped in a prison of having nothing and wanting everything. The second son wants more recognition; more accolades. He had adopted the attitude of “you owe me” which is at the heart of anger. And when you constantly look at what you think deserve that you aren’t getting, you neglect to look at what you already have.
So we have two brothers; one who has nothing and wants everything and one who has everything but thinks he has nothing. And these two brothers have a dad who believes in radical, scandalous, short-sighted, absent-minded, against all odds grace. He’s a dad who doesn’t care where his son went or what he did. He’s a dad who pulls up the hem of his robe and forgets his social status and takes of running like a crazed lune who has spent too much time in the sun working the fields.
But there is something about that image that stirs your heart and makes you think he’s probably not crazy at all. Maybe he’s just free, and in his freedom he can extend it to others in any way he likes. You see, maybe has had a brush with this true grace, or maybe he is grace, and when you meet it for what it is, it changes you and makes you do things and say things and live things and be things that the outside world probably would deem absolutely and totally insane.
And this is what the father who has been wrecked by grace or is grace says, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15.31)”
God has offered us everything. The creator of the universe who is in all, before all, and holds all things together has reconciled us to him though the sacrifice of his one and only son and he has offered us everything. Everything that is his is now ours.
In the presence of the father is everything. Everything we could ever want or ever need. Outside the presence of the father is a freedom that will run dry and just leave us thirsty for the real thing.
And here’s the sobering yet wonderful truth, you can’t earn more of everything. It’s everything and it doesn’t have a more. Be free to just sit in the presence of everything and be thankful for the grace you have found and there is a dad who risked everything to be in relationship with you.
Everything he has is already yours.