It’s all about the Father

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious
favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our
works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify
thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting
life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Prayer of the elder son)

A few years ago, multiple people I love told me to check out Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God. They said it was short (my favorite kind of book!) and succinct. They said it would shed some light on my nature — a nature planted, tended, and cultivated within the confines of a faith based greenhouse. They said, “you are the elder son from the Prodigal Son story! Isn’t it refreshing to know that?” I said, “Maybe, but who is the elder son?” And they replied, “exactly!”
Ok, I guess I should read it to figure out the meaning behind their cryptic advice…and I did. 

I went in with false expectations. I believed the book would radically alter they way I looked at myself. But in reality, and I am thankful for this, it just gave me a story to flip to when I needed to remember that I am not alone in my struggles. “Ah yes, the elder son. That is definitely me. Thank you God for giving me company as I carry this cross.” This was no ah ha moment. No radical change occurred in my heart. The information was interesting, but that’s about it. Now, my blasé attitude was not the fault of Keller. Many have been touched and enlightened by him bringing awareness to the elder son’s part in the story. My heart just wasn’t ready. I needed a different voice at a different time…

As I was perusing Half-Price Books a few months ago, you know, the behemoth you can get lost in off of NW Highway, I came across Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I picked it up, examined it. I mean, Rembrandt’s artistic rendition of the parable graced itself on the cover so I must look at it, right? It was even the picture on my computer’s desktop at the time! Fate or Providence?

I almost left it there to be purchased by another elder son, or even possibly a younger son. But I think it was $5.00, and I had heard many good things about Nouwen, so I splurged and purchased it. 

If you are an avid reader, very rarely does a book move you utter helplessness and vulnerability. Those moments of extreme revelation and destruction necessitate a collision between two forces: a tender heart and a life giving text. Over the years, Crime and Punishment, The Scarlet Letter, Blue Like Jazz, The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Problem of Pain, and The Cost of Discipleship have produced that kind of effect on me. Most recently, Nouwen’s exposition of Rembrandt’s painting and Jesus’ parable tossed my heart up like a Livan Hernandez eephus pitch that Giancarlo Stanton was sitting on — boom!
As much as my soul cried out “yes!” to his description of the elder son, and as much as my soul gave thanks to his honest reflection of his own heart bound to the darkness of the elder, he gently asks us, both the younger and elder son, to become something more — the Father himself. 
“If the only meaning of the story were that people sin but God forgives, I could easily being to think of my sins as a fine occasion for God to show me his forgiveness. There would be no real challenge in such an interpretation. I would resign myself to my weaknesses and keep hoping that eventually God would close his eyes to them and let me come home, whatever I did. Such sentimental romanticism is not the message of the Gospels. What I am called to make true is that whether I am the younger or elder son, I am the son of my compassionate Father. I am an heir…Being in the Father’s house requires that I make the Father’s life my own and become transformed in his image.”
Being the elder son, I normally take this to mean that I must continue to follow the law and moral decrees that God gives his people. Transformation often means the sanctification of my bad choices into good ones. But sanctification connotes much more. For the Father’s goodness rested not in his personal morality, but in the extended arms of grace to his wayward son who returns home and his dutiful son who’s heart steers clear of the hearth overflowing with the Father’s joy. 
Before either son can become the Father, they must relinquish their own perception of sonship and rest comfortably in arms of the Father. The younger son, full of shame, tries to redeem himself by placing himself as a servant in his Father’s court while the elder son only loves the Father when it benefits himself. Yet, the Father is there ready to offer his joy freely to both sons.

Many times in scripture, this joy manifests itself in a party or feast; “I am not used to the image of God throwing a big party. It seems to contradict the solemnity and seriousness I have always attached to God. But when I think about eh ways in which Jesus describes God’s Kingdom, a joyful banquet is often at its center.”

The fattened calf has been prepared in your honor. The best wine has been set at the table. Friends and neighbors have come to celebrate. The younger son, in all his passion and fervor, has discarded his desire to be a servant and has accepted the joy of the Father. The elder son resents both his Father and brother, but the offer of joy is there for his taking. The Father leaves the celebration to give his elder son the same opportunity of joy. If he rejects, he loses the beautiful gifts of sonship. If he accepts, he joins the Father in his household. 
To accept his joy is to be an heir to the Father, to claim fatherhood as your end desire. As an heir, I must now, like my Father, “dare to stretch out my own hands in blessing and to receive with ultimate compassion my children.”
“As the Father, I have to dare to carry the responsibility of a spiritually adult person and dare to trust that the real joy and real fulfillment can only come from welcoming home those who have been hurt and wounded on their life’s journey, and loving them with a love that neither asks nor expects anything in return.”
I am called to recognize my elder brother-ness and pray for the grace to strip them from my heart in order to accept the joyous gift of love that God gives me. In doing so, I am freed to love like my Father loves — with arms extended, full of grace for those in need of it. 

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