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Who Are You?

Luke 15:11-32

Then Jesus said, “Once there was a father with two sons.  12The younger son came to his father and said, ‘Father, don’t you think it’s time to give me my share of your estate?’ So the father went ahead and distributed between the two sons their inheritance.  13Shortly afterward, the younger son packed up all his belongings and traveled off to see the world. He journeyed to a far-off land where he soon wasted all he was given in a binge of extravagant and reckless living.

14“With everything spent and nothing left, he grew hungry, because there was a severe famine in that land.15So he begged a farmer in that country to hire him. The farmer hired him and sent him out to feed the pigs.16The son was so famished, he was willing even to eat the slop given to the pigs, because no one would feed him a thing.

17“Humiliated, the son finally realized what he was doing, and he thought, ‘There are many workers at my father’s house who have all the food they want with plenty to spare. They lack nothing. Why am I here dying of hunger, feeding these pigs and eating their slop?  18I want to go back home to my father’s house, and I’ll say to him, “Father, I was wrong. I have sinned against you.19I’ll never again be worthy to be called your son. Please, Father, just treat me like one of your employees.” ’

20“So the young son set off for home. From a long distance away, his father saw him coming,  dressed as a beggar, and great compassion swelled up in his heart for his son who was returning home. The father raced out to meet him, swept him up in his arms, hugged him dearly, and kissed him over and over with tender love.

21“Then the son said, ‘Father, I was wrong. I have sinned against you. I could never deserve to be called your son. Just let me be—’

“The father interrupted and said, ‘Son, you’re home now!’

22“Turning to his servants, the father said, ‘Quick, bring me the best robe, my very own robe, and I will place it on his shoulders. Bring the ring, the seal of sonship, and I will put it on his finger. And bring out the best shoes you can find for my son.  23Let’s prepare a great feast and celebrate.  24For my beloved son was once dead, but now he’s alive! Once he was lost, but now he is found!’ And everyone celebrated with overflowing joy.

25“Now, the older son was out working in the field when his brother returned, and as he approached the house, he heard the music of celebration and dancing.26He called over one of the servants and asked, ‘What’s going on?’

27“The servant replied, ‘It’s your younger brother. He’s returned home and your father is throwing a party to celebrate his homecoming.’

28“The older son became angry and refused to go in and celebrate. So his father came out and pleaded with him, ‘Come and enjoy the feast with us!’ 

29“The son said, ‘Father, listen! How many years have I worked like a slave for you, performing every duty you’ve asked as a faithful son? And I’ve never once disobeyed you. But you’ve never thrown a party for me because of my faithfulness. Never once have you even given me a goat that I could feast on and celebrate with my friends as this son of yours is doing now.  30Look at him! He comes back after wasting your wealth on prostitutes and reckless living, and here you are throwing a great feast to celebrate—for him!’

31“The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me by my side. Everything I have is yours to enjoy. 32It’s only right to rejoice and celebrate like this, because your brother was once dead and gone, but now he is alive and back with us again. He was lost, but now he is found!’ ” 

Before he was prodigal, he was a son asking for his inheritance, which is the same thing as asking for his Father’s very life; it was making a statement that the son did not care if his father was dead or alive. He wanted what was promised to him after his father died. And his father gave it to him! Stop right there, I know you see what I see in this story. This is not a story representative of someone who has lived a reckless life and then came to Jesus for the first time. This is a story of someone who knows Jesus, who is already living in the Father’s house and under his protection and blessing, and who then takes the gift offered to him, Jesus’ life, only to walk away and squander it. Someone who spends all that grace like it means nothing. As if that grace cost nothing. Sit on that for a minute. Let that ruminate in your heart and mind. For some of us, that may be a little hard to do. Spending too much time thinking about this feels too heavy for some of our hearts. When you are ready, let’s hop right back into this story. 

Once the son went away, spent the inheritance, and then was left with nothing, he went to work hoping to earn a living, but ended up serving pigs. He was so hungry that he was longing to eat even the slop the pigs were eating. Push pause again. Let’s pick this apart here, too.

When we took the inheritance God offered to us through Jesus, the gift of grace, went away and spent it on a life of sin until we had nothing left, we went to work hoping to just find a way to make it without having to own up to our own failures hoping to do so without having to face the facts: we have completely forsaken our Father in Heaven and treated his gift of grace as something cheap. 

In scripture and Jewish culture, swine are a representation of filthiness and not keeping the commandments. Pigs look a lot like sin in scripture. Let that sink in for a moment. This son spent his entire inheritance (the gift of grace through Jesus) and instead of owning his own failings, he went to work trying to earn that inheritance back, but ended up serving swine. He ended up serving sin, working for sin, trying to earn grace again. He was so hungry that the slop the swine were feasting on even looked good. When you get low, you will settle for almost anything that fills you up for even a moment. You know it’s going to hurt you in the end, but you need, for even just a moment, to not feel that pang of hunger in the pit of your stomach. So you’ll sleep with him again, you’ll go to that bar one more time, you’ll purge, you’ll cut, you’ll sleep, you’ll binge, you’ll avoid, you’ll (insert issue here). You’ll settle for the slop that sin feeds on. That is, until you’ve finally had enough.    

The son devises a plan to go home to his Father with his tail between his legs because he knows how horrible he’s been. He took his Father for all he was worth and then treated his inheritance like it meant nothing, as if it cost nothing. He would go home, show his Father that he has realized how great a sin he has committed, and then submit himself to indentured servitude to pay for his sins, while alleviating some of his suffering. 

We are the same. We are this son. When we walk away from God, using grace as a license to keep sinning, to do whatever we want, we come crawling back into His throne room on our hands and knees. We quietly knock on the door, peak in, and then, with our face buried in our own hands, we tell Him we know how horrible we are. How terrible and sinful and ugly we are. We know we do not deserve to be taken back, we do not deserve to be called Son or Daughter, but we promise that we will serve Him. Just please, oh please Lord, take us back. 

Then comes the most beautiful picture of grace, family, honor, and pure, supernatural, selfless love - his father sees him from the road, that implies he was waiting for him to return. He was not inside the house, he was not out in the vineyard, he was not taking a nap; he was watching the road for his son’s return. He runs out to meet him, he does not walk, his arms are not across his chest, he is not waiting for him to come crawling back; he runs out to him and throws his arms around his neck. When scripture says he kissed his son, the language gives us a picture that he just kept kissing him again and again and again. There is nothing cordial and “proper” about this. This is unbridled passion and love for his child on full display. His child who took his life, his child who treated his inheritance like it meant nothing, as if it cost nothing. His child who was hiding in shame because he had done terrible things. This child. This is the child that moved him. This child moved him. The father said, “You were dead, but now you are alive!” The son may not have realized the full gravity of his decision and the life he had chosen to live, but the Father knew what his son was doing, he knew that he was dead in sin, but just his return to his Father brought him back to life. It wasn’t righting his wrongs, fixing his mistakes, beginning to serve his father. It isn’t go back to church, reading your bible more, curse less, quit smoking, any of those things. It was returning to the presence of his father that brought him back to life. Wow. The wonder of what can happen in His presence! 

His father brought him the family ring to wear again, new robes, shoes for his tired feet and then he threw a party. He threw a PARTY. For a son who had done terrible things and he didn’t even make up for those things yet. He just showed up back at home and apologized and they were already throwing a PARTY for him! 

Are you the prodigal son? Or are you the son who never left? If you are the prodigal, how has God celebrated your return? How has he restored you to the family name - child of God? Take some time before you continue on to write down the answer to those questions. Remind yourself of His goodness and thank Him. Tell Him what it means to have experienced his grace and mercy. He is a good God. Take some time to shower Him with your praises.

If you are the son who has stayed, do you ever struggle with the prodigals around you? If you do, talk to the Lord about it now. Share with him everything you think and feel about that, but then, if you want true peace, ask Him to replace your feelings and thoughts about it with His feelings and thoughts. Choose to think like Him. Choose to carry His heart. Choose peace.

If you don’t struggle with prodigals around you, ask the Lord if you are making the most of the resources he has available to you. The father, in this story, tells his faithful son that everything he has belongs to him also. What are you in need of that you have not asked your heavenly Father for yet? 

Photo by ZSun Fu on Unsplash

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