Who’s in

This Sunday after worship, our church is hosting the musical production, “The Prodigal Sons.” I hear the show is great. It’s based on Jesus’ most important parable.

A man had two sons. The younger one demanded his inheritance from his father, and then squandered his father’s wealth in wild living. But then he came to his senses. He returned home and threw himself on his father’s mercy. “I’m not worthy to be called your son,” he cried.

The father who’d never stopped looking for him, welcomed him back as a son.

The older brother was out in the fields doing his duty, as he’d always done. When he saw that his father had welcomed his brother back home, he became angry. The father pleaded with him to come in, but (apparently) to no avail. “You owe me!” the son said.

I’ve said many times, when I finally understood this passage, it changed my life.

I’d always thought that the point was to be like the older brother: Stay home, do your duty. Don’t be like that awful younger one.

But that’s not what the parable is about at all.

It turns out that there are two ways to be our own savior, one by being bad and one by being good. At the end of the story, it was the “good” brother who was on the outside of his father’s house looking in.

Saying “You owe me!” to the father is a sure sign of a deadly spiritual condition. This is why, on the greatest day of his father’s life, when at last he had his son back safe and sound, the older son refused to celebrate.

When the truth of this finally dawned on me, I understood why so many people are put off by church. They look at the church and what they see (fairly or not) is a bunch of unhappy older brothers.

And as often as I’ve preached and taught on this passage, people still tell me, “I don’t see what the elder brother did wrong.”

Let me put it this way. There are two ways to approach God. One is to say, “I’m not worthy,” and the other is to say, “You owe me.”

I’m not God, but it would seem that the ones God welcomes are the ones who say to God, “I’m not worthy and I know I will never we worthy.”

The ones who think they deserve to be in, are out.

The ones who know that they deserve to be out, are in.

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