16 August 2014 by Jason Law CM –
We’re so accustomed to thinking that by being ‘dutiful’ children, we are showing love to our parents. By extension, we also treat our relationship with God in this way, and this is especially prevalent within Asian cultures. But we also know that dutifulness isn’t always a sign of a love relationship.
It comes by other names and in different contexts, but the same type of relationship also exists between ruler and subject, and between bosses and employees. Sometimes, this kind of relationship also exists between masters and slaves. However, in these other relationships, ‘dutifulness’ does not necessarily equate to ‘love’. So, what kind of relationship does God the Father wants with us, and could it be that it involves more than mere duties and obedience?
Lately, I have heard a few impactful messages about the love relationship between us and our heavenly Father, and it opened my mind about the true qualities of that relationship. In Luke 15 in particular, Jesus taught us about the heart of God. He told not one or two parables to illustrate this, but a total of 3 parables one after the other. Instantly, we know that this subject mattered greatly to God.
The Parables of Luke 15
In the first parable (Luke 15:1-7), Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Sheep. In it, a shepherd has a 100 sheep, but he leaves 99 of them behind just to find a solitary lost one. In the second parable (Luke 15:8-10), a woman has 10 silver coins, but she loses one. She painstakingly searches for that single coin, and when she does, she rejoices with all her friends and neighbors.
Jesus tells us in Luke 15:10 that the whole of Heaven rejoices when one single soul repents and reconciles with God. That is how much God values each and every single soul. And then, in Luke 15:11-31, Jesus tells one of the most famous and revered of His parables.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is revered, not just because it is a beautiful story, but because it contains within it much Spiritual significance. It is the occasion when the True and Perfect example of Sonship tells us about that Sonship with our Creator. In order to fully appreciate its power, we need to understand the parable within the Jewish context.
The Prodigal Son
Recently, in the SOM Conference 2014 on Israel and the Mystery of God’s Favour by Pr Peter Tsukahira, he explained about this Jewish context of sonship. In the original context, the word ‘Prodigal’ indicates extravagance and recklessness, and this was so of the younger son. In Jewish custom, the inheritance was handed down from father to son only after the father’s death. As such, it had the significance and connotation of a separation. In other words, what the younger son was telling his father was that he was considering on cutting all ties with his father and going to live on his own.
In the societal context, this was a greatly shameful thing to the father. Imagine him going to town to sell part of his possessions so that his younger son could take his money and leave the family. Furthermore, the younger son took this inheritance cheaply and squandered it all away. Very often, in our carelessness and lack of consideration for God, that is our attitude. We made other things our idols and we squander the identity as Christians that God has paid for so greatly with Christ.
Nothing temporal ever lasts, and sooner or later, the hard times hits. The Parable of the Prodigal Son strikes very close to home and is very true to life. The Prodigal Son comes to his senses, makes no excuses, and returns home in repentance to his father. The Prodigal Son had gone through a self-destructive period but he had one saving grace.
His situation led to the breaking of his self-will, and very often, this was the case for many authentic Christians as well. This was a good thing for the Prodigal Son because it led him down the road to reconciliation instead of lingering in a living death. Very often, it is when we are at our lowest point in life, when we are near breaking, that we surrender to God and He brings us through our greatest breakthroughs.
The Parable also tells us of the extravagance of God’s love through the response of the father. The father had been waiting the whole time for this return, and he makes complete restitution of the son with robes and rings (Luke 15:22-24). He even slaughters his only fatted calf to celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son.
God does not twist arms in respect to our free wills; we need to come through the process through our own choice. When we genuinely repent and turn back to God, however, He takes us back fully. Here, Jesus echoes the refrain found in the earlier two parables and of the joy and value God places, when one sinner returns to God. So much of this is familiar to us through this parable.
The Elder Son
But Pr Tsukahira also shared that the other brother also has lessons for us. Like another pastor, he imparted the truth that God’s Kingdom operates on the foundation of a family relationship. Families are systems and cannot be compartmentalized. What affects one member of the family also affects another. And the story of the Prodigal Son turns out to be the story of not just one Prodigal Son, but two; both sons were actually broken in their relationship with their Father.
In Luke 15:26-27, we find the elder son furious with his father, especially for not consulting or discussing things with him before receiving the younger son so extravagantly. In fact, he might have considered the fatted calf as his possession, probably kept for his wedding. In Luke 15:28, the father had to go out of the house and plead with him, and the elder son addressed his father disrespectfully (v29-30).
And suddenly, we remember that Jesus was not just addressing the sinners and drifters, but also the Pharisees (Luke 15:1-2). Additionally, this time He left the question of the elder son’s response open (Luke 15:31-32).
What is happening here is that the elder brother was showing a spirit of superiority over his younger brother. He possessed a mindset of ‘I will serve and obey, for the day will come when I receive my inheritance’. Very likely, at this moment in the parable, he had a picture of a father that is unfair and hard to please. In his mind, he had worked for years like a slave, and now, the rewards were going to the younger brother.
When we come to the root, he actually remained as self-centered as his younger brother; he was equally broken in his relationship with his father, and the only difference was that he was doing this in a dutiful way. This is the tendency of the human heart.
Jesus, The True Son
Jesus’s story and life has an impact that is beyond words because He was the best example we will ever have to a True Son of God, and He showed this example tangibly. Pr Tsukahira pointed out that a true son in the Parable of The Prodigal Son would have gone after the younger brother and do all he could in order to bring him back to his father, just as Jesus did.
Both Pr Tsukahira and the other pastor shared that the church is full of the elder brother today, but praise God that we have a true Elder Brother who came and paid the price so that we can come back into God’s family. Do we love the Father from the heart or are we doing the right thing so that we can inherit His possessions?
It is not our dutifulness or faithfulness, etc.. that is the main thing; it is our heartfelt response to God. Is our relationship founded on the same lines as the elder brother’s? It is not a kingdom of servants that God wants, but a Kingdom of His Children. The whole of Heaven rejoices when a lost soul reconciles with God.
Just as it was for Jesus, the true question for Christians should rather be ‘what pleases the Father?’. And our response should be ‘If you would show me, it would be my greatest pleasure to live accordingly.’ It is when we come into a real relationship with God that the favour that can only come from Him pours into our lives and sets us free from the bondages in our lives.
NOTE: This reflection was largely based on a session by Pr Peter Tsukahira.
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