Bitterness On the Tongue Lingers After the Feast Has Begun

Try to picture the scene: Jesus is at Matthew’s party with sinners, and the judgmental Pharisees are shaking their heads at the lost son’s rebellion… However, as Jesus told this story, He shifted gears on his audience. Suddenly he changed the narrative from the younger son’s foolishness to the older brother’s secret bitterness. It’s the part of the story that is most often overlooked by church-goers, but perhaps applies to them more than the well-known prodigal son’s adventures…

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:25-30)

bitterness

Two Audiences, Two Applications

Picture the scene: the feasting in Matthew’s house has paused while Jesus continues his parable about the two sons… As He tells this story, his audience leans in, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the younger son, and also at the permissiveness of the Father. The tax-collector/sinners, reflecting on their lives, wonder quietly if they could go actually choose to go back to God having wandered so far from home.

The lifelong church member/Pharisees in the group now have to put themselves in the shoes of the older son. They keep the law. They’ve done their duty. The Pharisees imagine walking up the driveway only to hear the sounds of feasting from the house. What the heck is going on here!? Has the world gone mad? They share the older son’s indignation over his brother’s return. They can easily relate to the bitterness expressed by the Prodigal’s big brother. They barely hide their disgust at the Father’s wimpy attitude, and they look around the room feeling somewhat superior.

Wait, What?!

Then Jesus explains more about the older son, and there is as much about him in what Jesus DIDN’T say as there is in what he said. He points out that while the older son has stayed home and done his duty, he doesn’t love the Father any more than the younger brother did. He is more concerned with the waste of resources (technically, now, HIS resources, by the way) than he is about his brother’s safe return. In fact, he is harboring bitterness against the Father that bubbles to the surface in quiet rebellion over this welcome home party.

It’s not just wild partying and blatant sin that separates us from the Father. Proud, self-sufficient superiority and bitterness can be just as destructive. Jesus’ parable illustrates that “doing your duty”, being right, and self-sufficiency are no substitute for love, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The Father loves both sons, and both are invited to celebrate. Let’s not be those Christians who stay in a holy huddle away from the party, finding community mainly in the rules they DON’T break together. If you think about it, we are all sons, and we are all sinners. Let’s find joy at the Father’s party with son and sinner alike.

The Bitterness of Being Right

The younger son returned to see them kill the fatted calf;
This younger son was happy–but not so, his other half.
The older brother sulked and of this party wanted none:
His bitterness remained long after feasting had begun.
Ask yourself, when sinners prosper and you hear the news,
Could you judge those sinners? Do you think that’s what you’d choose?
Are you ever standing in the older brother’s shoes,
Critical of your Father’s grace, and anxious to accuse?
Be careful that your judgment doesn’t circle back to you…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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No Matter Where You’ve Been, Be Courageous: Come Home

I’d bet most of you are acquainted with the story of the prodigal son, who ended up broke and broken a long way from home… It is a timeless parable about love and redemption, about family and feuds and forgiveness. But stop and think: this story is a diamond with several facets, and as we put our own lives into this parable we find ourselves discovering more than just the sad tale of a broken family and their lost son. It challenges us to see other perspectives that surprise us and call us deeper into its applications. Where are you in this parable?

Here, There, or There?

Remember the audience to whom Jesus told this story, the tax-collectors and Pharisees at Matthew’s party. Then, consider this facet. “And he arose and came to his father’s home. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)

Let’s explore the Father’s response to the younger son, who had recklessly asked for his inheritance, and then taken off and wasted it on “riotous living.” Since his older brother later tells the Father that his younger brother “squandered your property with prostitutes” (How did he know that? Wishful thinking? Maybe what he himself would have done?), it is safe to assume that he was not a good steward of the resources he had taken.

They Didn’t See That Coming

Any good Hebrew Father would have washed his hands of such a son, spit in his direction, and that would have been that. (Which is obviously what the older son expected.) However, THIS Father, the one Jesus knows, reacts very differently to the situation. First, the Father saw him “when he was still a great way off”. This can only mean that the Father was looking for him daily, standing perhaps up on the terrace on the roof and watching the road, hoping against hope to see his son coming home.

This was a Father who loved his sons, and who missed the lost son and longed for him to return. Upon seeing him, the Father had compassion. He didn’t fixate on what the son had done wrong, and he didn’t concentrate on punishment. Instead, he was filled with love. What he did next broke all kinds of cultural rules and expectations. Rather than waiting at home for the son to come crawling back, he did something no proud Jewish man would have EVER done.

home running

Who IS This Running Man?

He ran down the road, embraced his son, and kissed him. There’s a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean called “When God Ran” that depicts the moment beautifully. They sing about the broken son straggling towards the house and the hopeful father running to meet him on the road. Suffice it to say that this emotional outburst of love by the Father surprised the neighbors, the servants, and even the ragged younger son coming home.

The son even began to beg forgiveness with his rehearsed speech of contrition, but the Father overruled him. He said, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Wow.

A Different Father Than We Expected

Perhaps you have wandered away from God. Perhaps you have wasted or squandered His resources. Maybe you think He doesn’t appreciate your behavior, and wouldn’t welcome you back. Jesus has news for you: The Father is watching for you, anxious for your return. He is filled with compassion over anything that hurts you, and he longs for your company.

Yes, you should be repentant, and it might even be a good idea for you to rehearse your speech begging for forgiveness. But don’t be surprised if the father Jesus knows runs out to meet you and embraces you before you even get the words out. Come home. You might even get invited to a party! If my Bible is right, you will be the guest of honor.

Running Home

Hebrew Fathers didn't run. They wouldn't break their stride;
Public etiquette required that they be dignified.
Yet Jesus told a story once about a son who left,
And squandered all he had to wind up sad, alone, bereft...
Coming home, he found His Father watching from above,
Then running out to meet his son with unexpected love!
Jesus told this parable, as only Jesus can,
About the way God loves the lost, and about the time He ran!
If you are far from home, and broke, don't give a helpless shrug:
Go back! Your Father's running out to greet you with a hug.

From the song “When God Ran” by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti:

And then He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Two Sons: The Prodigal Son Story Is Actually About Us

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. He would gladly have eaten what the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘My father’s servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:11-19, NIV)

sons

The Story About Two Sons

In this parable of the two sons, the younger son dis-respects his Father by asking for his inheritance so that he could leave home and go do whatever he wanted to. If you’ve heard this story, the focus has generally been on those who wander away or live in rebellion before turning back to God. Of these two sons, most of us can relate to the younger son who left home and squandered his inheritance. Maybe it applies to you… Have you ever “taken your inheritance” and told God that YOU are going to run your life, and you don’t need his help?

If you have, you can relate to the younger son. Perhaps you are chafing against the way things are, just waiting for a chance to do your own thing; Perhaps you are in the “prodigal living” phase, too busy partying to care what God thinks; or maybe you have hit bottom, looking at your breakfast of warm beer and cold pizza wondering, “Is this all there is?”

But there are several more facets to this surprisingly complex parable. The elder son is bitter and selfish. The Father is not what you expect at all, given the circumstances. And beyond first glance, there are hidden elements behind each of the players that deserve a closer look. If you are anywhere in this picture, then remember a couple of things:

The Prodigal Son’s Discoveries

1) No matter how alluring the outside world may seem, the Father’s house is still a place of warmth and comfort.

2) Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” explains that “prodigal” means wastefully extravagant. The younger son was “prodigal” because he blew all his money on frivolous things…

3) Fair-weather friends don’t last, and to contradict Robert Earl Keene, all parties come to an end sometime. The laughter of drunken dancing often gives way to the pain of the morning after…

4) You can never go so far from God that it takes more than one repentant decision to go back home.

5) The younger son is only a third of the earthly part of this story. It is ALSO about both sons and their Father, and the way each of us relates to God. Read the whole thing (Luke 15:11-32) and see if you can’t find yourself in there. I bet you can.

Where Are YOU?

A certain man in a certain land had a son who didn’t understand,
But made a rather sad demand, and took his inheritance in hand–
The Father and his love be damned– and, lacking any better plan,
Went off and partied with the band from dusk ’til dawn, and
Things were grand until the inheritance was gone,
And he slept with the pigs out on the lawn…
The son was broke and all alone (the friends and party both were done)
And everyone but the pigs moved on,
So he finally thought of going home.

Though this story is well-known, Read it a time or two,
And tell me, when you’re done, which of the characters is YOU?
Have you left your Father’s House to do what you want to do?
Partied like a rock star ’til your funds (and faith) were through?
Have you hit the morning after, feeling somewhat blue? Your father watches for you, gazing down the avenue;
You’ll be surprised to know that He can throw a party, too,
And waits at home to kill the fatted calf and welcome you.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread