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Luke 15


Time to get prodigal!  Let’s have a whoop-it-up!*

I’m actually going to go way derivative with this post because I’ve read two great takes on this parable lately that I think are worth sharing.

1) Jon Acuff’s post today emphasizes a point he’s ably made before:  ‘life-ruining’ decisions don’t happen all at once.  It’s never the case that you’re walking along as a devoted follower of Christ and then, BAM!, all of the sudden you’re a hopeless addict living a lifestyle of self destruction that harms the people around you and dishonors God.

Notice that in vv. 12 and 13, the younger son crafts a plan, requests his inheritance from his father, and then packs his belongings in preparation for a long journey.  Only when he’s on his own does he lose himself in a life of wild living and rebellion.  We have no idea what his life was like before he left; I doubt he was dutiful and devoted to his role as son and brother.  We also have no idea how quickly he fell into an awful situation once he left home; he probably made the wrong friends and picked up bad habits that set him on a bad path — that’s more likely to me than the idea that he got away from home and started looking for prostitutes and drugs and lowlifes just for a change of scenery.

Sin creeps into our lives because it’s a lot easier to guard against obvious temptations to major life change than against small, incremental slides away from God.  It’s relatively easy for me to say, ‘I’m not an abuser; I would never hit a woman,’ because my many faults and flaws tend not to include anger, rage, aggression, or violence.  But the danger isn’t so much that I’ll one day snap and hit my wife and become ‘that guy;’ it’s that I’ll make a series of bad decisions that will result in my having acquired those faults:

  • If I decide to stop focusing on selflessly serving my wife, it’s believable that I will come to value my wishes and desires above hers and think that I must defend those against her, to separate our interests and view them as competing rather than as one.
  • If I decide to value ‘authenticity of communication’ above civility, I can come to believe that it’s more important to say what I feel, however destructive, than it is to speak words of love and put anger and frustration in its place.
  • If I indulge in pornography and media that sends a message of objectification of women, it becomes that much easier not to see my wife as a beautiful child of God whom I have sworn to honor and serve and love and protect.
  • If I buy into the culture’s argument that strength is one-dimensional and that only acts of will can validate my manhood, I’m more likely to consider violence a legitimate response to negative situations.

In our premarital counseling sessions, our pastor warned us both never to say that infidelity was inconceivable for us.  It’s when you don’t recognize it as an ever-present possibility and protect and guard against it that you are surprised by being in a situation where it’s a lot harder to make the right decision.  This is not just true of adultery but of all sin.  We all have our own predilections, but all sin is possible for all of us without the proper recognition and precautions (and, of course, the grace of God).

2) Wow, that was supposed to be the shorter of the two references to this parable.  The second is to Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God.  Most people read the story as the interaction between two characters: the father (who represents God), and the younger son (who represents us as sinners).  Keller doesn’t deny that this is a valid reading of the parable, but he shifts the focus onto the third character, the older brother.

Keller divides the world into two classes: younger brothers and older brothers.  He says younger brothers are much more about individuality, new experiences, freedom, expressing themselves … hippies.  Older brothers instead value tradition, responsibilities, roles, manners, security … squares.  Both fall into error, but in different ways.

Keller maintains that the parable is directed more at the latter group, which includes Pharisees of old and moralistic scolds today.  Jesus is mostly concerned with convincing the older brothers of the world that self-righteousness is inferior to grace.

I’d go on more about the book, but I’ve only read half of it.  I had to stop because I was feeling very convicted as an older brother, and I wanted to do a more dedicated read than I could afford to do at the time.  I recommend it, though, from the portion that I did read.  If you think you fall in the older brother, category, though, be forewarned that you will feel convicted and pinpointed and contrite about your entire worldview.  Enjoy!


* I promise I’m not as lame as that sounds; it’s a family inside joke…

One Comment
  1. Christen permalink

    Whoop it up!!! good to see you’re back posting =). i think that Tim Keller (and you) are correct in believing that the parable is directed at the Pharisees – the “older brothers” if you will. the context of the chapter is that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were muttering amongst themselves that Jesus is hanging out the ‘sinner crowd’.
    to quote rod…it’s part of the “irresponsibly responsible” syndrome that bogs a lot of us down. i know that I can be much more like the older brother sometimes, doing what seems the right thing, but not really recognizing the error of my ways and coming before God humbly, asking for forgiveness.

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