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"Loving the Proud and the Prodigal"

Mar.13/16 Luke 15:11-32


A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, "I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children." So he took one and jumped.

The computer whiz said, "I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me." So he took one and jumped.

The minister turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile said, "You are young and I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I'll go down with the plane."

The Boy Scout said, "Relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out!"

...And - there he goes! Jumping to a conclusion. I can relate to that fella, you know. I enjoy computers; I did well in school. But - yes - I've also made colossal goofs! I can find myself in that story, when I've been proud of my "smarts" and made hasty judgments. Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Sometimes pride gets the better of us; we think we're the "cat's whiskers", but a fall awaits those who are self-blinded by conceit.

Jesus tells a story in Luke 15 of a father with two sons in which many people can find themselves, relating to one of the two boys. The older son was proud; the younger was a prodigal, wasteful, a big spender. Many times when this story's told in church, the emphasis is on the younger son, a classic reprobate who blows his life in immoral living. Yet when you look at the context in which Jesus told the story - Pharisees and teachers of the law muttering about Him hanging out with tax collectors and 'sinners' - Jesus' main thrust probably had more to do with the elder son. That makes us uncomfortable. Is He really implicating US in this story?

We are, after all, in church, like we're supposed to be. We're not at home, sleeping in, hung over from some debauched party Saturday night. (ESPECIALLY today we should get extra credit - clocks sprang back last night, making this seem extra early!) We are the ones who dragged ourselves out of bed, took time to make ourselves presentable, reminded and challenged and yelled and cajoled and tussled with the kids to get changed and out to the car and here on time... Is Jesus really going to tell a story that makes US look perhaps as bad as the lazy partying lay-abouts that aren't even here, that couldn't get it together enough to show up this morning?

Hmm...Prepare to squirm a bit! But hang on to your seats, and don't jump!


Let's consider first the younger son. He undergoes through his experience a dramatic transformation in 3 ways: from callous to contrite; from needy to nobility; and from rich to relational.

First, from callous to contrite. V12 "The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.'" This was totally inappropriate. Usual etiquette would be to wait until your father's death for your share of the estate. In some circumstances, a father might divide the inheritance technically but retain the income from it until his death. To do what happens here - give a son his portion of the inheritance upon request - was highly irregular. It carries the unspoken sentiment, "I wish you were dead!" The Life Application Bible describes the son as having "arrogant disregard for his father's authority".

Well - you know the story - it doesn't last. The callous lad gets his things together, liquidates his holdings into portable cash, heads to a far country, and there blows his wad in wild, dissolute, unsafe, risky living. The word "squandered" in NIV translates a Greek term meaning "scattered" as if he's throwing away fistfuls of cash. When it's all gone, it so happens a severe famine hits the country - kind of like oil prices dropping in Alberta, I suppose, 'factors beyond one's control' - and our playboy starts to get tattered and hungry (not to mention an annoying itch that won't go away - I'm just guessing!). He attaches himself to a landholder who sends him out to the back 40 to feed pigs. Remember, to Jews, pigs are unclean animals, not even to be touched - and here he has to look after them! He's sunk below the pale in terms of common Jewish respectability. Physically, he's so starved, that even the carob pods in the pigs' slop start to look appetizing.

Suddenly, one stark lucid moment out there in the remote field amongst the grunts and squeals, a switch flips for Turnaround Tom. A light goes on in the back of his mind and he comes to himself. Vv17-19 ""When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.'"

He who was so CALLOUS is now CONTRITE. Note in particular 2 things in his rehearsed speech: "I have sinned" and "I am no longer worthy to be called your son". This is repentance, contrition, admitting one's mistakes, being sorry you've sinned. And realizing your unworthiness: you're no longer such hot stuff, the cat's meow; you've royally blown it. You've sullied your parents' last name. You've brought ruin not just on yourself, but you've dragged other lives down with you. You have no claim on anyone, no status to invoke as if deserving anything: all you can do is plead for mercy like a humble beggar. There is ZERO place for pride.

He also goes from NEEDY to NOBILITY. In the faraway land his clothes are muddy and tattered, feet are dirty and bare. When he arrives back home, what's his father call for? Vv22-23 ""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." The best robe, a long one that goes down to your feet like royalty wears, reserved for the guest of honour. Respectability in place of half-naked shame. A ring on his finger: that's a sign of power and authority, used for seals and official documents. Sandals on his feet: slaves went barefoot; sandals marked the freeborn, a son of the lord of the manor, with dignity. Respectability; authority; dignity. In an instant, Turnaround Tom has gone from needy to nobility, the cause for a huge celebration, a feast.

And he goes from RICH to RELATIONAL. At the start he has bags of cash. But when he returns home - when the father looks up and sees in the distance this half-clothed grubby straggler, bleeding and hobbling from the long journey on dirt roads - he has nothing, not a dime. Yet the next instant Dad is falling on his neck, kissing and hugging him, weeping for joy that the long-lost son is back home. It's as if the dead is alive, and the father comes alive, too. As the servant describes it to the older brother in v27, "'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'" He's come; he's back safe and sound - that's RELATIONSHIP. Isn't that worth more than riches, which can fly away so easily?


The key to this whole miracle, of course, is the exceptional Dad; let's call him Fervent Frank. He is so unusual as to be countercultural. We see a lot of God in Frank, just as we saw some of God in the sweeper-woman finding her coin, and in the shepherd who searched out his lost sheep. Remember Jesus in Mark 10:42f cautioning His disciples, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.Not so with you.Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant..." If you take that out of the realm of politics and instead apply it to parenting, you'd end up with someone a lot like Fervent Frank.

For some dads, it's all about respect, authority, power and control. A Middle Eastern dad wouldn't divide up his property - that's unthinkable! A Middle Eastern dad wouldn't break into a run - that's not respectable! A power-conscious dad wouldn't leave a party to go plead with a son - what for? The son should come to HIM and submit to his authority. His children OWE him that much, and more.

But over and over again, the dad in Jesus' parable is different, iconoclastic, shattering expectations all over the place. He is GIVING: v12, "He divided his property between them" - without so much as a protest. He is GUSHY - v20, "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..." and what? Said, "EWW, what's that smell?! PIG!!!" NO... "threw his arms around him and kissed him." The sense of the verb is "kissed him again and again." This dad is lavish in affection. Filled with compassion - his innards stirred within him; running toward his son, not caring how undignified it looked. Positively GUSHY. Demonstrative. Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The father is GRACIOUS. Cuts short the son's carefully-prepared apology in v21, doesn't even let him get to the "Make me like one of your hired men" part. So eager is he to get the son suited up in the best robe and ring and sandals to show he's fully accepted again, reinstated with the rights and relations of sonship just-as-if he'd never strayed in the first place. Justification = just-as-if-I'd never sinned. Eph 2:4-8 "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved.And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..."

Fervent Frank is GENTLE; he's humble, lowly, forgets his stateliness as he runs to greet the younger son. Doesn't camp on protocol but leaves the party to plead with the older son. Why 'plead' when you have the right to just order someone around? But he's gentle, pleading, "paracleting" (literally), interceding on behalf of the sibling.

He's also GLADNESS-DRIVEN. V32 "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." We just 'had to' - it was necessary, fitting that we be glad, literally REJOICE - like the shepherd and woman earlier in the chapter calling their friends and neighbours to celebrate rejoicing that the lost was found.

Doesn't that sound like a good God to you? Mirrored in this earthly father who's giving, gushy, gracious, gentle, and glad?


But we haven't dealt yet with the character this story, in context, seems mostly about - the elder brother, Proud Petulant Pete. Now, before we start lambasting him, let's give him some credit: he's the one who stuck around and managed the farm when his young whippersnapper brother absconded with a third of the estate and promptly blew it in the Big Apple. Think of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (the character played by Jimmy Stewart) - always wanted to go travelling but stayed home and managed affairs at the Building & Loan while his brother got to go away and be more famous and adventurous. The elder brother here did "the right thing", was the responsible one. Thanks to his hard work and careful management, Dad has been kept out of the poorhouse despite allowing himself to be robbed blind early on by Turnaround Tom.

But it's this very respectability, responsibility, self-righteousness, "doing the right thing" that keeps Pete out of the party: not because it was wrong, but because he takes such pride in it, and uses it to justify his existence.

He's in a SNIT. V28, "The older brother became angry..." Why so upset? Because dear ol' dad has received the wayward one as if he'd never done a thing wrong. Has dad forgotten how tough it was to manage when that third of the holdings just disappeared? Has it gone clean out of the father's mind what a slap in the face it was for Tom to demand his share even before dad died?

He's being SNOBBY. V28 "The older brother...refused to go in." What might he have been thinking? "I'm not going to associate with such a scoundrel, such a low-life, even if he is my brother. Why, he's a disgrace. He practically bankrupted us! Leaving me here all by myself to look after an aging parent...He's probably infected with some venereal disease; I'm scared to even touch him. The very sight of that no-good makes me sick."

He is SLANDEROUS. V30 "But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" He may be exaggerating here. V13 talks about "wild living" but didn't offer details; the elder brother may be a bit too quick to fill in the blanks, and assume the worst about just where that missing money went.

He is SNEERING. Listen carefully to the beginning of v30 again: "But when this son of yours..." He doesn't even call him "my brother"; instead slaps the father verbally by saying "this son of yours" - you can almost hear the disdain and contempt. Forget "brotherly love", I've disowned this guy from our family!

Worst of all, Proud Petulant Pete is fundamentally SELFISH. A life that's wrapped up in itself makes a very small package. V29 "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."

He's so selfish his perspective is entirely distorted. "All these years" - poor me, overemphasizing the amount of time. "Slaving for you" - he's no slave, he's a son, the de facto manager of the estate! "Never disobeyed" - that's questionable, unlikely given his obvious contempt for his father (notes commentator John MacArthur). "You never gave me even a young goat" - did he ever ASK? No. It's all about what HE can do by his own effort. Ego prevents you from asking anyone for help. Pete's way of propping up his self-esteem is by doing everything himself, never daring to be vulnerable or risk rejection by asking anyone for anything. He can manage very well all on his own, thank you very much. That way HE gets the credit!

Jesus has carefully framed the story in such a way that this is exactly where the Pharisees and teachers of the law (from v2) find themselves. They are definitely the OLDER brother, not the prodigal. They pride themselves on their law-keeping, always doing the right thing (according to the law of Moses), painstakingly observing the traditions of the elders. Not like the party-ers, the 'sinners', the prodigals. Life Application Bible notes, the Pharisees must have thought: "We have sacrificed and done SO MUCH for God." Self-righteousness gets in the way of rejoicing when others come to Jesus.

When the parable is finished, who is left standing outside in the cold? The person who justifies themself, who can only see how UNFAIR is the father's grace and acceptance of the wayward. As long as you're looking down your nose in contempt at someone else who's repented, you can't find God's grace for yourself. As long as you're bent on earning your own brownie points and working your way to heaven by mastering religious rules, you'll never make it.

It's so ironic. The elder son actually OWNS everything already (the father divided his property between them back in v12) - but his self-focus is sabotaging any enjoyment of the actual benefits and privileges that are his! "Never gave me even a young goat" - put that alongside the father's statement, "Everything I have is yours." He hardly even had to ask! But this mental wall of "my works, my earning, my reward" blocks him completely from the party, any relishing of the father's grace.

In a way, the father's estate is twice-blown, twice-wasted. The one-third that was the younger son's share has been squandered outright. But the two-thirds that is the older son's share isn't being accessed or enjoyed by that son, either. But at least Fervent Frank has the restored relationship with the younger son to enjoy - even if nobody seems to be benefitting from the real estate!


A prominent Christian businessman, Howard Butt, wrote an article titled The Art of Being a Big Shot. If you're at all inclined to pride, to self-exaltation, like the Pharisees, like Proud Petulant Pete, like me - perhaps you can relate. And repent, before it's too late. The businessman writes:

"It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It's appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can't go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can't ultimately rely on myself. I'm dependent on God for my next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I'm anything but a man - small, weak, and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion. It is not just a matter of pride being an unfortunate little trait and humility being an attractive little virtue; it's my inner psychological integrity that's at stake. When I am conceited, I am lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself. And that is the national religion of Hell!"

Let's pray.