Part 3 - The Elder Son
On that day in 8th grade, the day I first really heard the story of the Prodigal son, I found my identity. I am a child of God, loved and redeemed. It is the very essence of who I am.
But how long does that confidence last? For me it was my senior year in high school. That was the year that I had my crisis of faith because somewhere along the way, my song had changed. I was now singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for I’ve been good enough to earn it so...”
Nouwen writes later in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Homecoming, “Although claiming my true idenity as a child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation.”
I was the good girl. I was doing all the right things. I got good grades. I stayed away from boys. I didn’t drink, smoke or go with boys that did. I followed my parents directions, even when I would never get caught. I was the model child and it was wearing me down.
I was religious, a law follower, a zealot. I was the Pharisees hearing the next part of the story.
Luke 15: 25 - 32
“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.’Tim Keller caused me to think about the elder son in a new way. He writes in his book The Prodigal God, “He (the elder son), too, wanted the father’s goods rather than the father himself. However, while the younger brother went far away, the elder brother stayed close and “never disobeyed.” That was his way to get control. His unspoken demand is, “I have never disobeyed you! Now you have to do things in my life the way I want them to be done.”
“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.’”
Keller later writes, “There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good."
I had never thought of the elder son that way. I had seen him as resentful, angry and jealous of the father’s love for the younger son. But the idea that doing the right thing as an attempt to control God, to be my own savior? Wow. That hits deep, that squeezes my heart just a bit.
How many of us moms are trying to prove our worth, to earn our reward? How many of us are trying to keep all the plates spinning so we can keep control of our lives? How often do I expect God to do things my way because I have done the right things.
The elder son was with his father the whole time. All the father had was his. And yet he was lost. Lost in his own home, never really understanding his father's love for him because he was trying to earn something that you cannot gain through work. He was too busy proving his identity as the son to enjoy living life with his father.
Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.
But do we trust this? Do we believe what God has told us? What He did on the cross? Do we believe we are loved? Do we believe we are forgiven?
I have to tell you that I do believe it. I know that Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so but even more than that I believe it to the core of my being. My identity begins and ends with Jesus - his love for me and the work he did on the cross to save me. It has taken years, my own testimony full of altar stones, markers along my journey of faith. This story, these two lost sons are part of my story.
The father ran to his son who had wandered away. He left the party to go to the one that had stayed behind. God meets us where we are, he finds us when we are lost, and wraps his loving arms around us when we go home with him.
I love Nouwen’s words about trusting God’s love for us. He writes, “Without trust, I cannot let myself be found. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. As long as I doubt that I am worth finding and put myself down as less loved than my younger brothers and sisters, I cannot be found. I have to keep saying to myself, ‘God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, he wants you home, he cannot rest unless he has you with him.’”
God is looking for you my friend. He will go anywhere. He will follow you as you wander off, denying your need for saving or he will stand beside you as you try to control everything around you, trying to save yourself. He loves you. He wants you home.
And when you are home - oh my will there be a celebration. Because notice all three of these stories end with rejoicing. Joy. Unending joy.
Are you lost? Do you want to be found?
Or are you already enjoying your seat at the table?