Let the Redeemed Say So…
In August, (if you were there then you know) we had a great women’s Saturday with fabulous music and good words to chew on. I had to leave at lunchtime however and missed Emily Freeman’s punch line thoughts on the Prodigal brother’s anger problem. Having to leave early, I got angry (just kidding), but as I slipped out it occurred to me that I could just go into Luke 15 myself and really explore further the pain in the older brother’s predicament. What I gained for myself may well have been better than if I had just sat passively and listened that afternoon.
I have been struggling since Spring with a low grade infection. The infection has been in my soul, caused I am sure by grief - complicated by some very troublesome family dynamics in the passing of my Mother. I have a sibling who is like the prodigal. I have a God who is like the Father in Jesus’ outrageous story. I am (you guessed it) the older brother. I have very much felt like he probably did. I have come in, innocently enough after working hard, only to find the tables turned on me. Here are just a few of the observations I made in Luke 15 that have begun to melt my raging heart.
Jesus tells us this story after introducing two other stories: one about a lost sheep, the next about a lost coin, then lastly about the lost son. We focus on the prodigal who quickly spent his Father’s inheritance. We can too easily miss that Jesus introduces this tale with this clear statement: “A certain man had two sons.” (emphasis added). The set-up is a singular sheep and a singular coin, but when it comes to the sons, Jesus wants us to know that they both are important in the story. 8 out of the 22 verses in the prodigal story are about the prodigal’s brother! The master storyteller wants us to enter in to how this brother feels, and I believe Jesus makes the family tale difficult on purpose, to confront and to expose our reluctant hearts. As church people, we more often are in the older brother category than in the place of the profligate (thank you very much) and the sorry truth is, we kind of stink too. We just don’t usually know it.
When the older brother hears the party going on, who does he approach to get his questions answered? Not the Father. I wonder if this hardworking son senses he cannot trust his Father’s outrageous love for others. So this brother goes and gets the scoop from bystanders and now he is stewing outside the merriment. His reluctance betrays him. But his father does not betray him! The Father comes out to the sad porch where the brother is hanging. There is so much in their dialogue that is instructive. I journaled it all out, and you can too. The brother speaks of what he has done, what he feels he has been robbed of, and what his aim would be if the party was his. Oh, his heart is just as self-serving as his slob of a brother! But the Father meets him also, right where he is stuck. The Father leaves the party for him. The Father is looking for him too. The Father knows this son’s aims are as pitiful as the brother who came back just so he could get a meal. The Father entreats; the Father allows the meager defense; the Father listens and even tolerates the insult of the older brother’s lack of love for him and for his younger son.
When the Father speaks his words get right to the issue. First he identifies this angry brother as “my child.” He is not “the hard-worker.” He is not “the older responsible one.” He is identified as all he needs to be: “my child,” and that will never change.
Then the Father says something he does not (and cannot) say to the younger son, “you have always been with me.” This is valuable to understand. The Father is not preferring or over-valuing the younger son; in fact, he is specifically noting the older brother here, and there is reward coming for him. What the Father is valuing is not this one’s “work points” but rather that he has remained with the Father. And even if his remaining at home was self serving at its core (as his words have revealed), the Father dignifies and purifies the choices this son has made, even as he has already done so outrageously to the returning prodigal. The Father’s grace has covered both of them!
What I love and what troubles me however is that this story ends in tension. We do not know if the older brother melts under this grace and goes into the party. Jesus leaves it here I think on purpose. The Father has come out to our porch. It is up to us to finish how this story ends for each one of us. Are you hanging?
In her book “From Bondage to Bonding,” Nancy Groom makes this penetrating statement to all us older brothers, “[T]rusting grace feels more demeaning than earning our salvation.” The redemption that made us His child to begin with is the same that continues to call out our stubborn hearts. Are you melting?
As I wrote in my journal, “I love such a Father…I have such a Father!”
Mary Nees is a practicing artist, and adjunct faculty member of the Department of Art and Design at ETSU. She is the bride of Outreach Pastor Larry Nees, a proud mother and even prouder grandmother. You can see more of her art and writings at www.marynees.com.
Posted on Wed, October 16, 2013
by Mary Nees