Monday, July 8, 2013

The Older Son Had a Good Point

How often do we scoff at the deeds of a good person?  Or do we just simply respond with apathy?

Such an attitude is all too common in Western civilization and still pervades despite the best efforts of the last generation to wipe humility off the map.  You see, Western Christianity has a warped sense of humility.  We tend to look at the righteous deeds of another person as something we are supposed to do.

Meanwhile I have sit through the testimonies of so many people who talk about how they have sinned in the past and now they are redeemed.  And while redemption in Christ is something to celebrate, those of us who did what was right and came to Christ without having to hit some kind of rock bottom are left embarrassed when asked of our own stories.  I have literally heard of people who have been ashamed to tell others of their come to Jesus moments because it’s not all that impressive.

I cannot think of a better way to look at this than within the parable of the prodigal son.  In it, a young man declares that his father is dead to him and demands his inheritance.  His father gives it to him and sends him off.  He then goes and blows it all like a lottery winner and ends up broke and starving.  So he decides to go home, take responsibility, and beg his father for a job.  He figures he could live out his days as a lowly wage slave and at least have a good meal at the end of the day.

When he arrives, his father lovingly embraces him and has a party for his returned son, despite his son asking to be treated like one of his workers.  This is because his father is glad to have his son back.

But the story doesn’t end there, although much of the teachings on it usually do.  At least, much of the focus is on this part of the parable and little attention is paid to what happens next.  The landowner, you see, had another son, the older brother of prodigal one.  And he was obedient and faithful all his days.  In fact, when his brother returned in shame, he was out working the fields alongside the hired help.  I think Jesus does a better job of explaining what happens next:

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

He has a point, despite his words coming from resentment of his brother and father.  His father treated his own son no better than the hired help, never even giving him a small celebration to honor his obedience, but his younger brother, who despised the whole household, is treated like a visiting king.

I get the overall message here.  But at the same time, I think those of us who are faithful and obedient deserve some recognition from time to time to remind us that our obedience has paid off.  Now, in the parable, the father reminds his oldest son that his inheritance is still intact and that his younger brother has no share.

Still, this parable, I think, demonstrates how many Christians treat others.  While they celebrate those who repent, and for good reason, they show apathy to those who are faithful.

Think about it.  How many single mothers (not widows) are raised up on a pedestal while fathers are lectured on Father’s Day about how awful we are.  Never mind the single fact that men would rather not go to church and how most churches have more women than men attending.

Yes, we are to love those who repent.  We are to love the sinner.  But what about discernment?  What about judgment?  Jesus said it’s all right to judge others, provided we ourselves are relatively clean.  There is nothing wrong with calling out sin.

These days it seems that church members are more focused on winning converts than reassuring the obedient that their self-control is paying off.  It’s a sick atmosphere that demoralizes those of us who do things the right way.

The older brother had a good point, after all.