I preached recently for my pastor, using the story of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:11-31) as my text. There are three main characters: the younger son, the elder son and the father. We usually remember the younger son going away, coming to his senses and the returning to his father. What about the elder son and the father? I can now see myself in both the sons.
It is easy to see the outward reality of leaving and returning home. But there is a deeper inner reality that can be overlooked. Henri Nouwen helps us with his insight. “Leaving home is….much more than an historical event bound to time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being……..Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one…..Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: ‘You are my beloved, on you my favor rests.'”
Only in these latter years have I come to see the story through more enlightened spiritual eyes. At the heart of the story is the unconditional love of the Father. In my estimation, not until a man experiences the awareness of God’s gracious love, will he come home to his center where he is one in spirit with the Lord. “The whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry,” notes Nouwen, ” is to bring us to the house of his father.” Could it be that the greater sin for both the younger and older son is the rejection and disregard for the unconditional love of the father.
I image the father at home, grieving because his two sons could neither comprehend nor embrace his love, thus not being at home in his embrace. When a man opens his inner life to the unconditional love of God, which is beyond comprehension, he comes to experience with certainty being a beloved son of his heavenly father. Like both the sons I have lived outside the father’s embrace. I thank God for coming to rest in my heavenly Father’s love.
I can still wander like the younger son into the far country, drawn by my desires, attachments and compulsions, there to be influenced by voices that cause me to doubt my identity. I become conflicted, living with my contradictions. But the voice of unconditional love calls me home. What brings me back is the full acceptance of being the beloved of God. I have the freedom of choice. The father waits for me to come home. There is no condemnation when I am in Christ Jesus. In my coming and going I am amazed that God loves me in my shame and vulnerability.
It is harder to see the rebellion of the elder son. He was lost in his father’s house. He lived a dutiful life. He was a hard working, obedient older son. But the celebration for his younger brother brought to the surface anger than had turned into resentment. He “stalked off in an angry sulk” (v 28 – Message). He showed little gratitude nor did he care for the welfare of his brother, who was thought to be dead. “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief…… Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast! (15:29-30 -Message). He had a servant mentality, still trying to prove his worth. God saves me from “performance orientation” and a judgmental attitude.