By Ed Jordan
One of Jesus’ most famous parables is found in Luke 15:11-32. Let’s consider the three sons found in this parable. The parable begins in verse 11 (ESV): And He (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons.” These two sons personify the audiences to whom Jesus spoke (cf. Luke 15:1-2). The younger son represents a religious outsider group, i.e., sinners and unethical tax-collectors.
They are the rebels who live life on their own terms and live free from pressure to conform their lives to religion. The elder son represents the insider group (the scribes and Pharisees in this setting) who live to do their duty, fulfill obligations, and try to live by their rigid rules.
The scene opens with the rebels coming to Jesus, eating with Jesus, and listening to Jesus. They found Jesus to be approachable, interesting, and profound. He was even fun to be around! So they began hanging out with Jesus. Upon seeing this, the insider group began grumbling that if Jesus represented God He shouldn’t let himself be caught dead with such sinful people as those. In response Jesus told them a parable.
A man had two sons. One was Mr. Rebel, who wanted to run from morality and responsibility. The other was Mr. Responsible, who stayed home and did his duty. Mr. Rebel requested his share of the inheritance to be immediately given to him; he had places to go, people to see, and parties to throw.
We see this attitude in many today, and truthfully each of us has some element of this rebellion in our own lives from time to time. Surprisingly the father liquidated a third of his property and gave the proceeds to the younger son.
Mr. Rebel took the money, went as far from the father as he could, and spent his money on food, drink, women and song. But when his money ran out, he had to get a job in order to eat. He had gone from living the good life to walking around knee deep in mud and pig excrement.
He finally realized that even the servants in his father’s house lived better than he was currently living. He decided to swallow his pride, return home, ask for forgiveness, and work at home as a servant.
In the meantime, the father was watching the road, hoping to see his son’s return. When he saw him approaching, the father ran to welcome his son home. He restored his son’s status and had a joyful feast prepared so all could celebrate his return.
The elder son, Mr. Responsible, was out in the field working. When he approached the house, he heard music and asked what was being celebrated. He was told that his brother had returned and the father ordered a big feast. There was joy, singing, dancing, music, and the finest food available.
But Mr. Responsible was furious and refused to go in. The father came out to try to convince him to come in and join the party. But he poured out his rage towards his father. How dare you throw a party for this son who squandered our resources! It is not fair! It isn’t right! No doubt each of us have had these same thoughts from time to time when things happen that don’t seem fair.
There is a third son in the story. Where? Who? The third son is Jesus, the Son of God. He is telling the parable, and is personified in the life of the father. He loves and welcomes those who decide to return after they mistakenly run away from life with God. Jesus joyfully celebrates when people realize that there is no better place to live than with God and God’s family, and thus return.
Jesus also loves those who live moral lives, and yet in their attitudes are disappointed and angry with God. Like the elder son, they are perhaps angry because they feel that God should have blessed them more than others due to all their duties done for God. Religion without love and joy, leads to resentment and anger. We need to realize that when we are angry or resentful, we can be just as far from God as the person living in debauchery.
When we find ourselves resenting God’s restoration or blessing of others, we need to ask God to forgive us, take away our resentment, change our hearts, and bring us back into the joy and festivities of the kingdom of God.
Whether a person is one who was far from God in their lifestyle, or one who lived morally while being at cross-purposes with God in their attitudes, both can become disconnected from joyful contact with the Father. Whenever we become aware of this in our lives, we need to return to joy in the presence of God. Jesus forgives and restores all who will return.
The feast has begun, and you’re invited! Have you returned to take part in the joyful party? Or are you angrily standing on the outside and refusing to enter?