Yesterday I heard a sermon on the Prodigal Son. Now, the first thing we need to look at here that we might well not realize is the meaning of the word "prodigal". I have been guilty of using it the wrong way myself, even after I knew the true meaning. Many who don't look into things think it means one who has left and come back, but it doesn't go that far into the story. It means wasteful. As in the younger son went out and wasted everything. But he wasn't the only one wasting.
The story began with Jesus defending His work with the tax collectors and other downtrodden, whom the pharisees, self-appointed judges of righteousness, wouldn't touch. The Pharisees looked down on Jesus for His association with them, for wouldn't a prophet rather be with the "holy"? So Jesus first told them two stories that pointed out that His job on earth was to seek out such as these, the lost children of Israel, that their repentance would be the thing that brought God joy. But it wasn't getting through, because the Pharisees couldn't get past that "fact" that they were "better" than these.
So Jesus told a third story, and for most of us, this story starts with a son who left home, hit bottom, and ends with his father forgiving him. But that's only half the story.
At the younger son's (the so-called prodigal) request, the inheritance was divided in thirds, because by Jewish law, the elder son got two-thirds. I think we get the impression that the father tallied everything and "cashed out" the younger son, but actually he was given his share of everything- sheep, cattle, etc. And after he sat there on the family plot for a while, he gathered all his possessions and left.So he didn't just go out on some bender, he truly was starting a new life, with no intent of going home.
But he mismanaged his assests, blew all that he had, and soon was at rock bottom, working for (of all detestable things to Jews) a hog rancher- and he wasn't making much more than room and board. He got so hungry that he was slobbering over the food he gave the hogs.
This was, in Jesus' story, the tax collectors. They had taken on a reprehensible job. Not only were they scorned (with good reason) by their countrymen, but their means of existance required them to extort from their neighbors to earn a living. Wonder why the Bible never talked about rich tax collectors? Because the actual taxes went to Rome (or who passed for Rome in the area) and their living was based on whatever they collected OVER the fair taxes. You had to sell a bit of your soul everytime you ate your crust of bread in such an arraingement, and they had to feel themselves the lowest of the low.
So finally the younger prodigal decided, "I need to go back to my father and beg forgiveness. Being a servant for him is better than being a slave here." IOW, he had to ADMIT he'd been wrong, and ask for forgiveness with full knowledge of the Asshat he had been. He left in pride of place; now he would have to go back humbly, seeking no more than a servant's job- and realizing he didn't deserve THAT much.
But not only did his father forgive him, he'd been waiting for him to come home. He had him cleaned and put his own robe on him; gave him the signet ring that indicated he had returned to the position he had rejected- that of "son"- and put sandals on his feet, which servants didn't get to wear. IOW, he was "re-adopted" back into the family. I don't think I have to spend a lot of time on the analogy that this is of our process of forgiveness.
But then go on, and read Luke 15:25-32. Here we see our other prodigal- the elder son- getting upset over the "salvation" of the younger son. He points out to dear ol' dad that he never left, he's been right here with him all these years, and he "never gave me a young goat to make merry with my friends". And isn't it funny that this son, who was given 2/3 of everything, still wants dad to supply his goats? Oh, it's not that, you say, he just wanted to be TREATED the way the younger is getting treated. Never stopping to think that by allowing him to stay and serve him, the father made it so he never had to go through what the younger son did.
This is where the elder son was prodigal as well. He had all the advantages of being with this kind loving father- but was still stuck on possessions and position, and apparently never once appreciated his father, or learned the traits of love, patience, and above all forgiveness that his father possessed. Or to put it another way, he WASTED the good things he had by not using them to become more like his father.
And these were the Pharisees- so blinded by pride of position that they failed to use the gifts of the knowledge of God that they had to benefit anyone but themselves. In our minds, we usually think of the elder son as the good son, and the younger as the bad son. But in reality, Jesus was painting a much different story. The coda to this parable can be found in two spots-the first in Luke 18:10-14 when he tells the difference between the Pharisee's "devotion" and that of the tax collector ("Be merciful to me, o Lord, a sinner"); and the other in Matt. 23:15 where Jesus aptly describes the lessons they "learned" from their father ("woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves!").
Now it took me till last night to get to the application, because of trying to add things I thought important to a simple lesson. A fellow blogger, Elise, has been posting about what I would call extreme forgiveness. Another has been struggling with her faith as she watches her mother go through cancer treatments. I wanted to find a way to salute Elise's forgiveness, as it is at a level I would think a lot closer to the prodigal's father than my own. And to the other, I wanted to express how even the great gifts of God on earth are ephemeral; even those Jesus brought back from the dead, such as Lazarus, eventually died. It is the gifts of forgiveness, such as the father gave the younger son, that in the end were more important to him than all the possessions he was given beforehand.
But application has to start with me, and with me that application is to appreciate the things God has given me. I've been posting about the new job and the lack of doing things that has gone on with it (Hopefully it has been "humourous" and not "whiney"). But, it is a job I can do. And it is a job that I have. And it is a job I can come home from after 8 1/2 hours, instead of say being a solider in Afghanistan where there is no coming home to the barcolounger and a cold one at the end of a hard day. And I come home to a home that has my two best friends, rather than a one room shack for one person, or a mat at the shelter, or just to an empty house. Application means not whining to God about "the goat to share with my friends" that I don't have.
Most of all, application means learning from My Father the spirit of love, patience, and forgiveness that He has. Being the younger son, the so-called Prodigal, was never the problem. Being the elder son is.