The Father’s House Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
The wise person accepts that truth and lives his or her life accordingly. The foolish person insists on putting that truth to the test by means of experience before he’ll believe it. That’s what the young son did. One thing that began to dawn on me as I got further into the story is that the father has been looking for the son all along. He didn’t let him go because he did not care. He has been looking and he has been longing. Every day he checks the horizon for some sign that his son is on his way back home. And when his son’s silhouette finally does appear in the distance, the father recognizes it immediately and takes off running. He can hardly wait to throw his arms around him. And when they come together, there’s not the slightest hint of a lecture or ridicule. There’s no guilt-trip. Neither is there talk of the pain he caused nor the debt did he owe. There is only joy that the son has returned home of his own free will.
NEXT, LET’S LOOK INTO THE MIND AND HEART OF THIS YOUNG MAN WHO DECIDED TO LEAVE HOME.
We see this kind of thing so often. A young person has parents who care for him or her, but they can’t wait to break free and be on their own. Their parents want the best for them, but they see their lives as being restricted and controlled. The world looks really exciting and they tire of hearing their father or mother talk about the dangers and the wrongness of what is going on in the world. But when they leave, pain will be their constant companion. They will look for more and more ways to dull the pain. They will try everything including alcohol, drugs, and sex. They will think of everything — everything except the thing which is a cure for the pain. They will go everywhere — everywhere except home where they are loved and valued for the person they are. It is interesting that this young man thought he was on his own. “It’s my life and my money,” he told himself. It says that he “squandered his wealth in wild living.” But it was not his wealth. Actually, he was living off of his father’s resources the whole time. He would have had to work a lifetime to get that much money. He was squandering his inheritance and throwing away that which had been intended to provide him with a future. He wasn’t really on his own at all. Everything he was doing was made possible by his father. The prostitutes and parties were paid for out of his father’s pocket. But isn’t that true of all of us? We use the resources our heavenly Father has given to us to rebel against our heavenly Father. We say, “It is my life and my money.” But the Bible says, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). God has given you a life, a brain, freedom, loved ones, a good place to live or perhaps good looks, and what have you done with the Father’s gifts? Have you squandered his resources, or used them in the way the Father intended that “You might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10)?
The worst part of this young man’s life isn’t that he went away to the far country and spent the father’s resources in sinful living. No, the worst part of this young man’s life is that he never developed a relationship with his father. If he had, he would never have left home. He never understood how much his father loved him. He never figured out that what was available to him at home was more than all the pleasure and money in the world. He wouldn’t believe that his father wanted the best for him and had great plans for him. We might be tempted to blame all this on the father, but remember that the father in the story represents God. He is perfect in his love and wisdom. If the father had been controlling and manipulative he would never have let the son go in the first place. There is not a single word said against the father. This young man had rejected his father without reason. He had lived with him all those years and never knew him. He certainly didn’t understand all that the father had planned for him. He nearly ruined his life, and would have if he hadn’t “come to his senses.”
He had lost his rightful mind. He had become morally and spiritually insane, but he finally came to his senses. It began when he decided to admit his stupidity and sinfulness. He decided to go back to his father and say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” That’s all it takes, and when we come to that place, we too are ready to go back home.
WELL, THERE IS A THIRD PERSON IN THE STORY — ANOTHER SON.
He was the eldest. He was the good boy. He never left home. When his father asked him to do something, he did it. He never rebelled or ran away. He looked down his nose at his wayward brother. He had full expectations of being the head of the estate and inheriting everything that was left — in spite of the fact that there was a sizable hole financially in the estate, since his father had given half of it away to his younger brother. He was glad that his younger brother was gone. It would be easier for him now. He felt a little smug. He had been the obedient son and he deserved all this. He had earned it. There was only one problem. He shared a critical character flaw with his younger brother: he never actually got to know his father. He had not really developed a love relationship with him. He was dutiful and faithful. He worked hard and was dependable. But he did what he did because it made him feel proud of his own accomplishments, rather than doing it out of a sense of love for the father. And when the father showed that he still cared for his wayward brother, he became angry and bitter. He saw it as the ultimate injustice. He accused his father of wrong. He made his father out to be unfair.
He thought he was the one who deserved a party — not this troublemaker who smelled of pig manure. He talked to his father like he was stupid and intentionally wrong in his judgment. He charged him with favoritism. He didn’t understand that it was not about who had been good and who had been bad, it was about who was dead and was now alive. It was not a matter of who was deserving; it was about who was in need. But the older brother’s concern was about justice, and he never understood that his father’s concern was about grace. This is a problem for us good church folk.
Every Sunday we get up and get dressed for church. We take our place in the pew and put in our dollar. We sing the hymns and serve on the committees. We serve the dinners and attend the special programs. We are moral and decent human beings who obey the laws of the land and the laws of the Bible. And then, along comes someone who is fresh from the street, and weighed down with sins. They say one prayer and everyone is excited — in fact, more excited than they are about those who have been in the Lord’s house forever and are faithfully doing the Lord’s work. Like the older brother, it is easy to become bitter and angry that parties are being thrown for those who were out in sin, and just recently stepped into the Father’s house. It sort of galls us that Jesus said, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). “Yes, but is there rejoicing over someone who doesn’t need to repent?” we say. But again, we are not playing good boys, bad boys or good girls, bad girls. We are involved in a spiritual struggle of life and death. Someone who was dead has found life, and it is fitting that we rejoice.
Jesus originally told this story to show there is hope for everyone, and that it is not a question of whether we deserve to be in the Father’s house, because the truth is that none of us do. He was contrasting the faithful religious people of that day to the sinners who were turning to God. The point was that neither of them had a relationship with the Father — in spite of all the religion in some of their lives. The point was that one group had “come to their senses” and returned home to establish a relationship with the Father from whom they had been at odds. The religious folk, instead of rejoicing, were incensed. They were angry and bitter. In their minds, they deserved God’s favor, but they had never really experienced the Father’s love.