“A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them.”
What is up with this boy? This brash, insensitive, selfish boy?
Treating his father like he’s already dead by demanding his inheritance long before it’s due.
Gimme what I’ve got coming to me, old man.
So his father does and watches his boy gather his things and leave. Many prostitutes and pigsties later, the boy, penniless, comes to his senses and wonders if his father will take him back as a hired hand.
Isn’t this what we do when we’ve royally messed up…reach for the lowest possible expectation? We’re willing to hire ourselves out for what was freely given in the first place. It’s almost like it is hard-wired into us to think we have to earn our way back to the smallest grace.
This is something that must be remedied.
So the father is always watching and even when the boy is very far away, his father sees him and runs all awkward and undignified, the long grass scratching against his shins until the two of them clash in an embrace of hugs and kisses, over and over and over again.
Suddenly a robe, a ring, some sandals and a crazy BBQ party is ordered for this scoundrel. “…for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again… he was lost, and has been found.”
Perhaps this is when the uptight upright begin to think…”Okay, we get it, Jesus. You’ve said this three times. God loves everybody.”
See, there is this thing called the Rule of Threes in storytelling.
The teller or the writer of a story will repeat an important point or rhyme three times to help the hearer or the reader to remember what is most important. In this case, it is God loves everybody.
All good storytellers use the Rule of Threes. The best ones will add a twist.
Therefore Jesus, looking beyond his scandalous friends to those standing a safe distance away, continues with his story.
“Now, his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.” When he was told why this was happening, “he became angry, and was not willing to go in, and his father came out and began entreating him.”
Out comes The List.
Many rule-keeping good deed do-ers keep lists of their lists and accounts of their accounts.
They chart their graphs and graph their charts.
They keep balanced accounts written upon their balanced sheets.
It’s a veritable rule-keeping circus.
One. It’s been all work and no play for me.
Two. I’ve had no girls, no parties, no frills, no squandering.
Three. I’ve never asked for anything and I’ve never been given anything.
And four. Not once, not one single time was there any BBQ!
By now, the uptight upright are probably seeing a pattern in the stories. First God is portrayed as a shepherd and his scoundrel friends are the lost sheep. Next, God is the woman and again, his so-called friends are the precious coin. Clearly, the younger brother in this last story is a convincing representation of these cling-ons Jesus keeps allowing to follow Him. Clearly, God is seen in the forgiving father.
But this older brother… is Jesus implying this pious, rigid, venomous older brother is one of us do-gooders?
As Jesus delivers the story’s twist into the twisted hearts of the religious, perhaps they felt for the first time the magnetic pull of grace and mercy when they heard the father’s response to his son’s good-deed do-er list these words…“My child.”
My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
In that moment, did they sense the Holy Spirit entreating them, washing them, enveloping them with what must be remembered.
Jesus said it three times.
He loves prostitutes and
boys stuck in pigsties and
petulant older brothers.
God loves everybody.
“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”– Benjamin Franklin