“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”Luke 15:29
On one level it is easy to sympathise with the older brother in this parable. Who among us wouldn’t be annoyed if we worked hard all our lives while one of the family was seen to squander the family wealth? Who wouldn’t be annoyed if that same person came home to a hero’s welcome, an extravagant party and expense, costing the family yet more wealth? Who wouldn’t be annoyed if all this happened and we hadn’t even been given the finance for even the simplest of celebrations with friends?
This is not a parable about family fairness or how money should be inherited. This is a parable that forces us to ask who am I? Yesterday we were asking the question who is Jesus?
As we reflected on Jesus, we discovered he alone is the Messiah who deals with the problem of our sin. This is central to understanding Jesus. Jesus is grace, he is mercy, he is forgiveness. Jesus is precious. So much so he cannot be earned but only received as a gift. Jesus is priceless.
In this parable the lost son returns home after a life of waywardness and sin. He returns knowing he is not worthy of being called a son and so he hopes simply for the status of servant. Such is the joy of the Father to have his son back he is not only welcomed but welcomed with all the trappings of inheritance and of being an heir. A servant does not receive a ring or robe, a servant is not honoured with the fattened calf. Only an heir, a son. This is grace, this is how we are welcomed into God’s family when we come knowing we cannot possibly deserve sonship, hoping only to be a lowly slave – yet we are welcomed as heirs.
The elder son in this parable on the face of things is much more sensible. He has stayed at home; he has worked hard. Whereas the younger son came to know he was not deserving of his fathers love or favour, the older son believes he is worthy. He deserves to be able to celebrate; he deserves to inherit his father’s wealth and position. This sense of entitlement leads to bitterness and resentment. This older son cannot bear to see his younger son returned, welcomed, or celebrated. All the older brother can see is what is his being taken from him.
The older son has not understood grace. He has not understood that he has already received a fair wage for his work. He has been fed every day, received a roof over his head. This older son does not understand he has received all he is due. His failure to accept grace, to rejoice in the grace others received ironically keeps him out of the very party he complained of not being able to have.
What is our approach to Jesus? Do we come to Jesus believing he owes us something for what we have given to him? We have attended church, paid our offerings, helped the poor, we have been good people, or at least we haven’t been as a bad as some people. All this means Jesus must surely owe us, he must surely welcome us.
The lesson from this parable is that if we come to Jesus hoping to get what we deserve, what we have earned or what is due to us then we have already received all that Jesus has for us. The recognition, the credit, or the position in society; how others think of us. This is our reward, and this is what we receive.
Grace is understanding Jesus has so much more for us, so much more we do not deserve. Grace is understanding this is freely given not to those who demand their worth, but to those who come to him knowing they are unworthy.
Who are we?
Prayer Lord Jesus, help me to understand who I am and what I deserve in order that I would understand who you are and your graciousness towards me. Lord Jesus I thank you for all you have done for me. I do not deserve your sacrifice, your mercy or grace. I deserve only to be under your command, your judgement and yet you have made me an heir. Lord Jesus thank you… help me to understand. Amen