I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I will. Growing up, I hated the story of “The Prodigal Son” in the bible. It’s suppose to be this great story of God’s love and grace…it’s suppose to bring you repentance as you find comfort in a God who loves you in spite of yourself…..it’s suppose to give you that sense of security in the God who is running arms outstretched to you as you turn your heart back to him. But honestly….I was never quite able to see that in the story. Instead what always stood out to me in the story, is the older brother and how even though he did everything right (i.e. he didn’t demand his inheritance…basically spitting in his father’s face and saying I wish you were dead….and then after wasting it all living the crazy life, come crawling back asking for more like his brother), yet in the end it’s his brother who is lavished with love… and acceptance….and an all out welcome home party!
In so many ways I can relate to the older brother…..I can almost see his story played out in my own life when it comes to me and one of my own sisters. So basically, I’ve never really enjoyed the story because reading it always felt like a punch in the gut! It’s like I could sense I was on the wrong side of the story…I was the “Older brother”….and I was missing out!
Today I read the book “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller and I have to say it truly challenged me to look at the story in a different way and it forced me to examine the state of my heart! Keller does something in this story that I have never seen before in a book….he takes a well known bible story and makes it 3-dimentional, giving you perspective from every different angle. He talks about the younger brother (of course) and how he dishonors the father by going out and doing everything wrong, but then he also talks about the older brother and how he was just as dishonoring to the father by doing everything right, but for the wrong motivation! The older brother may not have “sinned” in the way his younger brother did….but he also assumed that because of everything he did the father OWED him something….in his mind he kept to the “law” of the culture and therefore was deserving of a reward!
There’s this great apocryphal story in this book (a story originally told by Elizabeth Elliot but not really in the bible) where Jesus tells the disciples to pick up a rock and follow him. Peter hearing Jesus say this decides that Jesus never said how big of a rock so he picks up a small stone and then gets behind Jesus as Jesus says “Come follow me”. Later in the day, Jesus sits down with the disciples, tells them to pull out their rocks and then turns them into bread. As they are getting ready to leave Jesus again tells his disciples to pick a rock, and having thought he had learned his lesson Peter this time picks up a large stone that is hard to carry and causes him to lag behind during the next part of the journey. When they finally get to their next destination, Jesus tells the disciples to pull out their rocks and throw them in the water. Peter is dumbfounded and Jesus responds, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
It’s so easy to get caught up in doing things “for” God and expecting something in return! It’s easy to be a Pharisee and to demand God do what you want because you think you’ve done what he wants! What’s hard (at least for me at times) is recognizing how much of a sinner you truly are…..what’s hard is seeing the ugliness of your own heart and recognizing how much you need a savior…..what’s hard is admitting the ways you have tried to be God or control God and then repenting and placing control back in His hands! But that’s what also makes this story (the prodigal son) so great…..it's recognizing that no matter what side of the story you’re on, no matter how your heart has gone astray, the father’s still coming to reach out to you! So Thanks Timothy Keller for opening my eyes to the joy of the story!