In today’s language, this parable would be the story of the two siblings, boys or girls, or one of each, living in a small rural village where their widowed father owns half the town and most of the farms around it. From a young age the older child has been groomed to take over the family business and the younger has been a bit of a rebel from little, although the father deeply, deeply loves them both. The more responsible one just gets more responsibility. The younger one eventually says: “Dad, I want to get out of here and make a life for myself in the city – I've got to get out of this place. Can I have my part of the inheritance, and, you know I didn't go to uni like my big sister, so I actually saved you thousands of pounds in fees and residence costs, so it's only fair you give me that as well.”
And the Dad, who in a sense had always known this moment was coming and had long ago realised that when the moment came he would give her what would come her way when he died, because he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t, ... with a broken heart he opens bank accounts in her name, some are savings accounts, others are investment accounts, some 30 Day call, 90 Day call, etc. And she leaves home……she leaves what has really been……Eden……escapes her father’s presence but uses the life he has given her, and the gifts and qualities with which he has shaped her……she uses these in the city to live a life which she kind of believes has been denied her by living with her father. After 5, 10, maybe 15 years, when the money and investments have dried up, and she’s moved from luxury to comfort to struggle, she eventually finds herself on the street and all that that entails.
Meantime, the older child has stayed in the small village and, with his MBA, has grown the family business,.....in fact it’s now a national business with export opportunities opening up. He’s always busy, often away; and there hasn’t been time for relationships and marriage. Dad’s really getting old, but in business everyone still thinks its Dad’s business, even though Dad hasn’t been in the office for years. Sometimes the older brother has read about his sister in the society pages of the Sunday papers, where he has read about her alcohol and drug addictions and the various times that she’s spent in rehabilitation clinics, the rumours of affairs with well-known people and abortions, and he’s read about her fall from grace as her money has run out..............and he despises her. A private detective he hired had uncovered that she had started advertising on the internet as an escort, but more recently was working on the streets with no fixed address.
He hates her almost as much as he hates the life that he has, running the family empire, but with no time for himself. His exotic car collection actually bores him to tears and the trips to France, Beijing and New York just leave him feeling he has no life, no time, no energy. People thought he lived in Eden, but his life was hell, and for no real reason, he has drifted from his dad and has no real relationship with him, even though they live on the same property, which now also includes a luxury golf estate, one of seven that the older son had developed almost as a sideline to the main family business. They hadn’t had a barbecue together for years, even though their main business was now one of the biggest privately owned beef production enterprises in England.
And one day the son, as he was flying his private jet onto their private airfield, noticed that the whole little town seemed to be gathered at the local football stadium, which their company had built for the town, and there was what seemed like enough bulls on spits to feed the whole town and its surrounds.
He asked the air traffic controller what was going on and he said: “Your sister arrived yesterday, and your dad is beside himself with happiness and has said there’s a party until he says stop.”
The son in the plane was so……angry.
The daughter in the stadium was so……overwhelmed that her father had welcomed her.
And the father was even happier as he heard the jet and looked forward to having his children reunited at a special table in the centre of the stadium.
How does the story end if you are the one flying the jet?
This parable is about the separation between people, between one person and another person, between you and the person who comes into your mind now. It’s about the fact that you and I fall into the temptation of letting other people’s behavior determine how we feel about them. You have betrayed me, you have mocked me, you don’t appreciate me, etc, therefore I will be angry with you and resent you and despise you.
OR: You are very nice to me and you appreciate me, you understand me……therefore I will be nice to you, and respect you, love you and be kind to you.
Believe me, you don’t want to be in a family or workplace, a church or a nation, that lives by these principles. Many of us, however, do find ourselves in such families, workplaces, churches and nations. We, however, are called to be salt and light, we are called to be different……Are we? ……Are you? …… Am I?
We are called to be like the father: His attitude toward his children was not determined by their character, but rather by his character. This of course, describes our Heavenly Father’s attitude to us: it is determined by His character, not by our character. Our Father loves us as we are, not as we should be, since none of us is as we should be. We are created in His image, so we are created and called to love in the same way. A cocky person asked Jesus once: “and who is my brother?” to which Jesus answered, again in parable form, every other person created in God’s image.
Do we really think that we can love the Father, but not love our imperfect brothers and sisters? In this parable, God places greater importance on love and unity than on absolute obedience.
The key verse in this parable is verse 19
" I will get up and go"
and in the context of love and forgiveness, in the context of thinking about those who we are angry with, or who we resent, or who we refuse to “go back to” …… We need to get up from whatever it is that separates us from others, whether it be our sin, or their sin, and go. Because to remain at that place of not returning, of remaining apart from others and therefore from God……is to die.
We cannot think that we can love the Father, but not love our imperfect brothers and sisters.
We need to “get up” …… to get up and return to the Father, to “get up” and return to all those whom our Father loves.
To stay down and separated is to die; to stand up and be re-united……is to live.
Choose to live.