The Elder Son

Today we wrapped up a six part message series based on the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. Before worship, I headed to Starbucks and reread the passage from Luke.  I struggled to concentrate amidst the noisy conversation of four gentlemen solving the problems of the world over their morning coffee. I found myself skimming distractedly through the passage, having read the familiar story more than six times over the past weeks.

And then I noticed something I’d just glanced over previously. When the father goes out and pleads with the older brother to come in and join the celebration, the son replies, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you . . . ” (Other versions say “serving you.”) The irony hit me. One son trudges home in rags, hoping to find a place in his father’s household among the servants. And the father hightails it out to greet him and welcomes him home as a son. Meanwhile the other brother, the faithful son who remained at home, sees himself as merely a servant, yet his service is what he believes warrants his father’s attention and celebration.

Prior to this series of messages, I dismissed the elder son as haughty, a guy with a bad attitude, but certainly not the focus of the story. Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to understand that the elder son was also far from home.

Do we view ourselves first and foremost as beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father? Is our life in God about what we do for him or is it rooted in what he has done for us? How often do we pause in our day in simple awareness of what it means to be a child of God? Do we understand that we can’t do a single thing to earn our way into the family of God, yet slip into an assumption that our “perfect obedience” to him keeps us in his good graces?

Jesus left his most famous story unfinished. I like to think he wanted his hearers, primarily religious people, to look inside their hearts and find the ending to the story there, an ending that could be a beginning if they could only find their way home to the heart of God.