I sat in church yesterday excited about a new series that we were starting in our Sunday School class. It's called Gospel in Life and is produced by the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, Tim Keller. In this study, Tim was expounding upon the story of the Prodigal Son. (You know, the one about the son who boldly claims his inheritance from his father before his father even dies and then goes off and squanders it on wild living and prostitutes.)
Well, sitting there I was completely struck by a new understanding...of the other son! We all know and love the son who runs off in rebellion and ultimately sees the error of his ways and slinks back home hoping to find forgiveness and reconciliation. We can identify with that kind of rebellion, or at least with the temptation to rebel like he did. We can breath a sigh of relief when his father runs out to meet him (while he was still a long way off!) and rejoice with him when he receives a new robe and is placed before a feast with his father's entire household. We celebrate his forgiveness and restoration!
But what about that other son?
I never quite knew what to teach my 8 year old son about this older brother. He seemed to have done everything right, and yet the father was not celebrating him. His arrogant little brother takes 1/2 of the inheritance (while his father is still alive!) and proves how foolish he is by loosing it all in record time. Why didn't the father recognize the older son's integrity? Why didn't the father celebrate the older son's wisdom? Tim Keller helped me see this in a whole new way. In a spark of divine light, I saw that I was like the older son.
I am the one who, like the older brother, can think of myself as "slaving" away for the Lord; bound and determined to do the right thing.
I am the one who, like the older brother, can keep a record of wrongs and pridefully compare myself to my "brother" who looks less obedient.
I am the one who, like the older brother, can covet the Father's stuff (answered prayer, blessings, assurance) and neglect the Father's call to be in relationship.
I am the one who, like the older brother, can disassociate from my rebellious "brother" and cast him on my Father as His problem to deal with.
And that was the rub. For a while now I have been mulling over the idea that God's audience for Crossing Jordan was the "rebellious" people described in Psalm 51. The ones who knew of the Lord, but no longer knew the Lord. The ones who may have grown up in a Christian culture, but were not walking in the Christian faith. In my mind, that was someone else. Today I realized that it was also me.
The prodigal journey home is a story of two "rebellious" brothers. While one rebelled externally, the other rebelled internally. While one squandered away his Father's inheritance, the other squandered away his Father's love. Fear and pride ruled them both. One was afraid of being ruled and the other was afraid of losing his inheritance. One's pride demanded he seek out a better life, and the other's pride demanded he be recognized.
I have the same besetting sins of fear and pride. I can obey merely out of a fear of the consequences of disobeying, and not out of a true love of the Father. I can become prideful of these very same accomplishments (that I did out of fear and not out of love), and further defend them out of a fear of losing my reputation! I need to be brought home again too. And just like the recording artist Phil Wickham sings, "I need to come running Home, back where I belong." I am the one who, like the older brother, is a prodigal son in need of forgiveness and restoration. Just as much as the younger brother, I need to restore my hope for returning Home to the arms of my loving Father.
The "rebellious" ones of Psalm 51 are indeed someone else and those like me. They are both of us who would rebel for the world to see and those who would rebel in the secret places of their heart. God's audience for Crossing Jordan just grew...