The Tragedy of Squandered Grace
There is something utterly ridiculous about grace. Have you ever noticed how bizarre the parable of the prodigal son is?
Obviously there is a wonderful message here about a loving Father, who, while his son was still a long way off ran to him and welcomed him back. There is an ever present truth that no matter where you are or the life you've lived; no matter how desperate you are for change or forgiveness, God the Father longs for you to come to Him so that he might embrace you as a Son, set you free, and gift you new life. Certainly we can't look at this passage without dwelling on such an incredible truth as that. However the last few times I've read this parable I've been struck by something else.
I've always struggled to understand the position of the older son. Sure, I can relate to him in my jealousy and envy... but didn't he do the right thing by remaining with his father at the beginning? Why then was he grumpy that others might share the love of His father? Anyone who has enjoyed God's presence knows that there is more than enough love in God to go around.
It would have been so easy to have written this parable with just one son. Most of the other Parables deal with one person, but here almost half the parable is completely devoted to the older son. For some reason, God really wanted us to know something about the Older Son. But for some reason, most of the time we read this parable and seem to miss it.
Perhaps we can understand something from Jonah 4, where Jonah resented that God would show his love to the Ninevites who had before squandered Gods love as a heathen gentile nation. However, when we look at Jonah 4 we can see pretty easily exactly Jonah had gone wrong. We are left sure of what to do.
But in the Prodigal Son, we want to say that 'remaining with God' as the older son did at the beginning is the right choice and the better path. At the start of the passage it seems that he is in the right place with God, and yet by the end of this passage the older son seems out of place and in need of rebuke. What went wrong? How can someone seem to be living for God one minute and then so bitter the next? How can someone chilling in God's presence not want more people to share in it.... The passage even tells us in v29 that he wanted to celebrate with His friends.
Now when I read this passage I can barely get passed the first verse without being blown away. I used to hear the title and think I understood the whole passage.... but now.. this scripture is alive, and it amazes me.
"There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
Why on earth would the Father do that? Isn't it utterly irresponsible. It doesn't make any sense to dish out your will before you're dead. In Britain, if you do so 7 years before you pass away you do get to miss out on inheritance tax... but do you really think God is worried about inheritance tax? Of course not.
For some reason, the Father here didn't do what any self respecting father would do today... disciplining the son for being so rude by saying 'wait for my passing and then you can enjoy the feast.' Jesus did as much in Mark 10:38, just after the Sons of Zebedee asked to sit at his right hand. "You do not know what you are asking" He rebuked.
No. For some reason, the father did exactly what he asked. He divided his property between them. And for a few very short days, until the younger son took his share away, that was that.
Bear with me when I say this. I don't think that this story is about a lost son, or the younger son, or the prodigal son. I think it's about squandering grace.
Think about it. God, the Father, divides his inheritance among his children when they ask. Jewish law did permit the son to ask for their share in advance. 2 thirds would go to the older son, and 1 third would go to the younger. It was considered ridiculously rude, but I think it points to how the character of God is so at odds with our human natures. Right from its conception God planted intoIsrael a law that for some reason allowed sons to inherit before death... they just had to ask. Israel hated it. Men hated it. It was rude. But why would it be there in Gods perfect law?
God as our ultimate father longs for us to share now in this life, a taste of what we will see in heaven. God himself died on the cross, so that we might inherit as sons of God. The God who died - why? So that we might inherit Sonship in His kingdom. Read Ephesians 1:11 and Colossians 1:11-12. When we are sons of God, we already share in an inheritance. For some bizarre reason, God has given it to us.
'But God only gave a share to the younger son' you might insist. Read John 15:31 with me.
The Father says to the Older son... 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.'
No, The Father divided it, as it says in v12. Isn't that utterly ridiculous? Isn't grace extraordinary?
We usually read 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.' as if it's just a way of putting things into perspective. Of showing the Older son that there is a time and a place for celebration, after all the younger son has just returned. Yes, it is that. But so much more. In fact, really its a rebuke. A stinging painful rebuke, said by a Father who wishes the Older Son understood what it meant. A word spoken to a Son who might perhaps have suddenly realised. An Older Son who might have just become speechless. The Father has the last word.
Perhaps the Father is really saying to the older son 'you hadn't got it right after all.' Perhaps He is saying something like John 9:41
"now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains."
I think this refers to our inheritance as Christians. Christ has already invited us into his infinite inheritance, even though more is yet to come when Jesus comes again in Glory. In this light, the parable becomes a story of greater significance. The issue is more than simply 'returning to the father' and is instead about what we do with our Christian inheritance, just as the following parable in John 16:1-13 (the dishonest manager) is too.
The younger Son takes his inheritance and squanders it. He uses it for himself, where he should be using for God. John 15 tells us that apart from the Vine we can do nothing, There will never be a time where it is right for us to do as we wish. We should not think that there would come a point when the Father would have died and the Sons could have done as they wish. Our Father will never pass away, He will always own his estate, and yet for some bizarrely gracious reason He offers to share it with us anyway. The simple reality is that if we are cut off from the source we quickly encounter famine. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. We've all used the extraordinary gift of life, to live for ourselves. We've all found that living for ourselves in knackering.
For some bizarrely gracious reason He offers to share 'His estate' with us anyway. In other words, wherever you are, whatever you've done... If you come to the father, you will never run dry. Whenever you ask God for forgiveness, you will receive it. As Isaiah 40 puts it:
"Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
The older son has squandered his inheritance in a different way. He rudely failed to recognise that he was ever even given anything. Of course, he didn't 'deserve' to have this right (the request to share in ones inheritance is a rude one!) but nevertheless he does have this right. He is invited to by his gracious Father.
We might ask why then the son never once celebrated with his friends (John 15:29). The Father doesn't tell the son that he shouldn't have been celebrating with his friends, but leaves us thinking that actually, he should have done.
We have plenty of reason to celebrate the amazing love of our Father. I think the answer is simple. He hadn't begun to use or accept the gifts that God had given Him. Instead, He looked his father straight in the face and said 'I don't deserve this... you couldn't possibly have given it to me.' He lived for years on the Fathers estate, as a slave. All the time, his Father wanted him to live as a son.
I think we do this in a pretty similar way. God has won for us an eternal victory. He offers us the gift of Sonship and salvation. The gifts of the Spirit, and the authority over sickness, demons, and anything that could stand in the way of God. He asks us... will you take it? will you use it? will you live with me, but for me, as my son.
Our hope of Glory is that Chist the Son of God lives in us (Col 1:27). We are now - today - as soon as we come to God, adopted as Sons of God into His family. As the Holy Spirit fills us, we receive power from on high (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:8).. to do the work of Jesus, and usher in the Kingdom.
Let us pray thanking God for welcoming us back with open arms. Les us not respond to Gods gifts to us with either a rude rejection of His invitation (as the younger son), or with a rude rejection of His gracious gifts (as the older son). God please teach us to celebrate your love while we remain with you.
'Still a long way off'
As i read this I noticed that In Luke 14:31-33 Jesus offers a story which precedes the parable of the 'Lost Sheep', the 'Lost Coin' and the 'Lost son.' It is quite different, but it possibly relates to how the lost son might have felt about coming back to his father?... This is very forced, and rests on 'while he was still a long way off' occuring in both passages.
In the parable of the Prodigal the son sits down and counts the cost of returning to the father... and He asks for terms of peace.