About a year and a half ago Tim Keller, Lead Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, wrote a book called “The Prodigal God,” and yes, I’m just now getting around to reading it. In fact my wife and I both read it this past weekend and I’ve got to say that it has absolutely reframed Luke chapter 15 for us.
Traditionally in church-world we have focused merely on the rebellion of the younger brother and the grace given to him by a loving father as he seemingly repents of his waywardness and returns home. Tim Keller blows such a surface read of this parable out of the water and lays out for the reader that there are two ways to be alienated from the father, two ways to be your own savior and lord. In one way we do so by being rebellious and very bad. In the other we accomplish the same aim by being obedient and very good.
The truth of the matter is neither one of these brothers truly loves the father, they’re both lost. The older brother obeys and claims to have done everything right, and in doing so believes that because of his righteous performance that he deserves a reward from the father. The younger brother comes to the father only to get what is owed to him (albeit a bit early) in order to go out and spend it on himself. Neither of these brothers truly cared about the father or about the things the father cared about. They cared only for themselves, in that they cared only about what they could take from the father for themselves.
What really struck a nerve for me though was how he contextualized the story of these two brothers with the previous two parables in Luke 15, the story of the lost sheep and of the lost coin. In which both instances describe someone who went looking for something that was lost, found it, and subsequently there ensued a celebration. In the story of the two brothers, no one goes looking for the “lost son.” The person that should have gone, the older brother, was too busy tending to his responsibilities and “obeying” his father. How many times do we become so busy doing work for our Father that we forget that the heart of our Father is not bent so much towards our acts of righteousness or even obedience but towards the lost son? See, what keeps the father up at night is not the one son who is tucked in safe and sound at home. But the one is out who knows where, doing who knows what, with who knows who! Those who truly understand the heart of the father and aren’t just interested in what they can get from him are moved into action by what moves his heart. So if what truly keeps the father up at night is the lost son, then we’ve got to ask ourselves, do we find ourselves out looking for anyone? Or have we simply taken the approach that if we build it, they will come? Do we find ourselves chasing after people who look like us, dress like us, and have the same socioeconomic status that we do? Or do we ever find ourselves chasing after those who have spent their money on women and pleasure as though we were chasing down a long lost member of our very own family? In church-world I believe we’ve forgotten the fact that the church doesn’t exist for us, we are the church, and we exist for those who have not yet met the father.
At the end of the story ironically enough, the brother who should have been searching was the one that ended up lost and never made it to the party.
And if I’m gut level honest with myself, it’s scary to think about how many times I’ve fallen into the comfortable trappings of older brother thinking.