If I force myself to be entirely honest, sometimes tears flow during times of corporate worship, not out of gratitude, though the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf certainly moves me. If I dig deeper, look beyond the appropriate and expected emotional responses, there is something else, an emotion seemingly unsuitable and certainly disconcerting. It is a sense of abandonment.
We sing about it. We teach on it. We even paint lovely photos depicting it. It is the story of the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one.
While this is certainly great news for that one lost sheep (and the essence of the Gospel), I am often left feeling deserted, neglected.
You see, I am the ninety-nine.
We sing about it. We teach on it. We even paint lovely photos depicting it. It is the story of the prodigal son who was welcomed home with open arms.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 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!’ My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15 20-32)
What an incredible parable depicting the love and forgiveness of the Father! He embraces, kisses, celebrates the one who returns home! Embarrassed by my own selfishness, I must admit I am jealous.
You see, I am the prodigal’s brother.
I was raised in a Christian home, said the sinner’s prayer at age four and by the time I reached my teens, I had responded to more altar calls than I could ever count. From my earliest memories, I had been within the Shepherd’s fold, lived within the Father’s house. “Must I stray in order to get His attention?” I have wondered. “Must I leave and return to be as valued as the prodigal?”
To answer these questions, let’s take a closer look at these stories. To whom was Jesus speaking?
“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable….” (Luke 15:2)
Jesus was responding to the Pharisees, who through their strict observance of the law, hoped to achieve salvation. In their self-righteousness, they saw no need for a Savior. However, Romans tells us that all have sinned and that redemption comes only through Christ.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)
Once again, peering into my own heart, I recognize my need for a Savior. Even the selfishness, the pride and the jealousy have separated me from the Father. I repent. I come running back. He sees me, embraces me, celebrates me. I am undone. The tears come. This time, they are tears of gratitude.
You see, I am the prodigal. I am the one.