So, there was a man who had two sons. The younger says to the father that he wants his share of the inheritance now (a very 1st century Jewish way of saying, I wish you were dead). The father could say no, but he doesn’t. The father actually does it, he gives the younger son the inheritance. The son then goes to a foreign country and wastes his wealth in wild living. Then a famine comes in. Having spent his wealth and being hungry, the son hires himself out feeding swine. He is so hungry in fact that he longs to eat what he’s feeding the pigs (yum, sounds delicious). But then the son comes to his senses, and realizes it would be better to tuck his tail between his legs and head home. He prepares a speech, “Father I’ve sinned against heaven and against you, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” As he’s coming home the father spots him a long way off, runs to him, throws his arms around him, and begins kissing him. The son tries to get out his speech, but the father isn’t interested, he’s ordering rings and sandals and robes to be put on the son. He throws a party for the whole area because he is so glad his son that he had been so worried about had made it back home.
But, the older brother hears the party and refuses to go in. The father comes out pleading with the older son to come in. But, the older son is upset, saying that the younger had gone off and squandered the wealth and in return gets a party. He, the older brother, on the other hand has done everything right and never even got a little party for his friends.
Part of what strikes me about this story is the speech the younger son prepares, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” There’s something in that word, worthy, that just stands out to me. I almost want to sit down with the younger son and go, let me get this straight, before you were worthy to be called his son, now you’ve messed up and you’re no longer worthy to be called his son? Is that how parent/child relationships work? Is it about earning attaining, and achievement? And we don’t just see this with the younger son. It’s implicit in the older brother’s response – he’s squandered your (our/my) wealth, whereas I haven’t. It’s as if he’s saying he isn’t worthy to be called your son and have a party thrown. I am. I’ve done all the right things, I’ve done everything you’ve asked, and even though I’m worthy you haven’t done even a small get together for me and my friends.
Now, the father in the story represents God, just in case you didn’t know.
And while I find this dynamic, this use of the word worthy quite odd, I have found this is what we are often tempted to do.
Sometimes we tend to think of ourselves as unworthy of God’s love because of what we do or don’t do.
Sometimes we tend to think of ourselves as worthy of God’s love because of what we do or don’t do.
I have heard people say that they couldn’t come into a church because of the things they have done. That if they came in the roof would collapse of God would strike them with lightning.
Yet, the image that Jesus paints of the Father is completely different.
This father has been sitting watching, waiting for the son to return. He spots him a long ways off and runs to embrace him.
And it raises a question. What is your image of God? Is God this dark, cynical character waiting and watching for you to slip up, anticipating the moment you step out of line so that He can smite you? Is that what God really wants, to punish and torture and all God needs is a justifiable excuse to take you down? Or, is God more like the father in the story, filled with beauty, and love, and grace, waiting and watching for you to make a good choice so that God has an excuse to celebrate with you? And this is an important questions, because as Thomas Merton once said,”That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
We tend to give our love based off of what people do. We tend to assign worth to people based off of accomplishments and/or personal interactions. But even we get out of this rut sometimes.
This is my boy Sam. He is 5 years old, and hasn’t earned me a single dime. As a matter of fact, he’s cost me quite a bit of money. He hasn’t made a bunch great accomplishments, or done anything to merit being worthy of my love. And yet, he’s my boy, and there’s nothing on the planet worth more to me than him. There are times he makes choices that aggravate me and there are times I’m disappointed in decisions he makes. But the reason I have those emotions are because I know what he can be, and I want so much more for him than what he’s choosing in that moment. The fact is, there is nothing he can do to make me love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make me love him less. My love for him and his worth to me does not work in the scale that the two sons from the story seem to think it should. And when I see this picture, I don’t simply see my son. What I see is just a glimpse of what God feels toward us. Only, what I’ve found is that God feels this so much more toward us than we could ever imagine. Life is a gift. Each moment, each breath, each conversation, each glimpse of beauty and experience of wonder is a gift given by a heavenly Father who says that everything He has is ours. God is looking for an excuse to throw a party, and each moment we are invited to join in.
May you see God in the way Jesus presents the father in the story. May you know that your worth is not found or lost in what you do or don’t do. May you know the grace and love of God in an intimate way.
May your eyes be opened to the party that is being thrown, and may you join in it.