A friend recommended I read Tim Keller’s book “Prodigal God” a few months back, and, thanks to a Barnes and Noble gift card, I picked up a copy this week. If you haven’t yet read this marvelous little book, I highly recommend it. It’s a look into what Jesus was really saying in the parable that we all know as the Prodigal Son, or, as Keller calls it, the Parable of the Two Lost Sons. He makes the point, rightly I think, that we often focus on the wayward younger brother who goes and squanders his share of his father’s estate and comes home to be embraced by a grace-full father. Not that that’s a bad thing! But his point is this: when we stop there, we miss the very point Jesus was trying to make to His audience.
You see, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, the religious elite, the Sabbath-keeping, law-abiding, good folk. He was talking to the ones who, like the older brother in the story, sneered at the wild living of the younger brother, and at the reaction of the father upon the younger’s return.
The older brother in the parable does all the right things. He stays home. He’s dutiful. He’s committed to doing the right thing. He says he’s never disobeyed his father. He’s the “good son.” He’s the one that thinks he’s good because he does what he’s supposed to do. He thinks he’s righteous because of what he’s done. He thinks he deserves something from the father because of the way he’s obeyed. He’s stuck around in order to get what’s coming to him: his share of his dad’s estate. When the brother returns and is welcomed back without reserve, he’s indignant! What about his party? What does he get for being the “good” son? He’s so mad, he won’t even rejoice that his brother who was “dead” has come home!
I realized as I read the parable anew that, while I always have read it like I’m the younger brother, I’m much more like the older than I’d care to admit. Oh how I’ve tried to earn God’s blessing by keeping the law, by following the letter of the law! Not to get closer to God, mind you! Not to sit as His feet and be blessed by just being with Him! No, but to somehow force His hand into blessing me. How may times I’ve felt that, if I was just a little better, then God would have to bless me. In effect, I’ve viewed God as my own personal genie in a bottle, with my good works being the proverbial rubbing of the bottle that guarantees my three wishes.
I’m not halfway through this little book, but it’s rocked my world. Again, I can’t recommend it more. But beware: prepare to be smacked down, and yet lifted at the unmerited grace of a loving father who welcomes us all, both the younger and older brothers!