Series: The Church Papers
Way back in the 60's and 70's gay persons began to "come out of the closet" and make their inner supposed identities known to their families and friends. Fellow sojourners "in the life style" applauded and saluted these brave souls, but parents often shut them out.
I watched a video a few months back in which a man about thirty-five, or so, met with his parents hoping and even begging that they might be reconciled. Upon learning that their son was “living with another man,” the religious parents shut the door and banished their offspring into the outer darkness forever. That bothered me greatly because of the rejected son. The father, a kind of Casper Milquetoast, was silent. Strong-willed mom was adamant and uncompromising in this true to life clip. Sex was not mentioned.
I had a great roommate from Florida back in the days of the Jesus movement, which followed the hippie summer of love in San Francisco, (1967). My old adobe hacienda in Los Altos Hills was flooded with younger guys and gals seeking answers. Mel Fagan, a new follower of Jesus, a “long-haired hippie freak” (some called him), was perfectly straight, and he managed our house superbly. I set up bunk beds for ten guys in the spare bedroom, and Mel cooked and kept “The Mesa” livable and consecrated, evicting sluggards and taking in real refugees who had nowhere to crash for the night.
I tried my best to get Mel to cut his hair. I felt that his true identity was tied up, like Samson’s, in his shoulder length silky brown hair. Mel refused to “repent.”
Mel returned home one day to see if his parents would welcome their returning prodigal long-haired offspring. They did not—until Mel confronted them with the picture in their front hall. Sure enough it was a painting of Jesus, and Jesus didn’t have a crewcut.
A bit later in time, Ray Stedman flung open the doors of history to a whole generation of disenfranchised kids. The “Jesus Movement” is another story. Those of us who witnessed the Jesus Movement will never be the same! Many thousands of young people were attracted to Jesus Christ back then. (See Revisiting the Haight-Ashbury). The hippies dispersed from San Francisco in the Fall of 1967, because the free food ran out and the weather got too chilly for sleeping bags in Golden Gate Park. (See The 1967 Summer of Love: A Web Site Tour).
Economic necessities and the lure of false security in "the Establishment" swallowed up the Jesus People also.
I thought about the account Jesus gave concerning one such prodigal son.
Then Jesus said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:11-31)
This amazing account is set in patriarchal Israel where homes were simple, with fields where farming and animal husbandry supported the family, and also met the needs of the necessary servants and “farm workers.” These families did not invest in stocks and bonds. Savings might be a few coins in a bag. Enough to pay the hired hands but nothing left over. (No eating out, no SUVs, no luxury vacations in Acapulco or Timbuktu, etc. Anyhow, the “estate” was most always left to the kids, the modest “ranch” would not be sold to the highest bidder after mom and pop “passed away.”
So when the younger son, not his older brother, hit up his dad for money, (his share of the money he would get when his father died), this amazing father did not wince or hesitate.
We don’t know if mom was still alive. She probably was, we are not told. Was she consulted in the matter of her second son’s request? Were there sisters present? If so they would probably have been auctioned off to a well-healed and very moral suitor. (See Bill Risk, The Ultimate Wedding).
How old was the boy when he moved out? Of legal age, 18 or 21 or so, most likely. He may have passed his Bar Mitzvah at about 12 when Jewish boys today assume responsibility for their lives and move into manhood. Most Jews don’t run out and get drunk after their rite of passage, but possibly this boy did. (Wine in moderation is featured even today in Jewish families, few become alcoholics later on as a rule).
We will just have to wait and see the details of this parable when Jesus comes back and explains it further. Some of the accounts Jesus gave were parabolic, but some were true stories, such as the startling report of Lazarus and the Rich Man, in Luke 16.
No matter, if Luke 15:11-31 is “only” a story told by Jesus for the benefit of his followers then and now, then the settings and the account still run true to life.
This brash young man took the coins saved week by week (for his legacy and his brother’s). He departed in haste, feeling his oats. Dad wanted the best for the kid of course. Dad had possibly “been there, done that” in his own “misspent youth.” But now dad thought he might never again see his son alive. The son would be greatly missed back at home. Would he phone or send a postcard? Not possible in that day. Neither could son #2 call home for bail money from some constable’s drunk tank. The son had already spent all he would get. Besides they did not have nice, friendly town constables or cozy, comfortable drunk tanks, back then nor half-way houses nor homeless shelters.
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” said Jesus. John’s gospel records that his disciples went to their own homes, but “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” This was during Passover week and the weather was chilly and damp. Jesus did not have a warm sleeping bag, nor did he park his Ferrari at the entrance of the Garden of Gethsemane. They all traveled on foot. (Galilee is nearly a hundred miles to the North, remember). (See Jesus, Plain and Simple).
We all can guess how the prodigal fared out in the real world. Not so cool after all. An old song from the forties comes to mind, “Cigareetes and whiskey and wild, wild women they’ll drive you crazy they’ll drive you insane” written by Lyricist Tim Spencer.
Was Jesus also in some sense a Prodigal Son? Yes, He was. This hidden truth in Luke’s escapes escapes the notice of most readers, but is discerned by many followers of our Lord. More later on this.
The return of the prodigal has evoked great art and many books. Especially noteworthy is “Return of the Prodigal,” Henri Nouwen’s remarkable study of Rembrandt’s marvelous painting. There is much, much more that can be said about the account of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus.
Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
There is no need here to discuss our nation’s current grievous distresses concerning divorce and abused or neglected kids, or child abuse, or bonding failures in childhood today. This in no way lessens the national tragedy now going on everywhere in our land. The whole mess today is a consequence of ignoring God. There are other major consequences of ignoring our Creator, but marginalizing Jesus is a biggie.
Everyone knows there is one true God! It’s built in to each of us. Romans Chapter One says that we earthlings suppress (repress) the truth about God we already have!
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:20-23)One major way the one true God makes Himself known is through nature and the created universe, at all levels. It is true that the original creation has been damaged by angelic and human revolts (Romans 8), but it does not require a very high IQ to see that something has clearly gone awry in our world. It’s not only people who are broken or fatally flawed, the whole system is destined to crash.
“And you God made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked, according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest of mankind.“Trespasses” are inadvertent straying across boundary lines in life, going where we ought not to go. “Sins” are deliberate actions which violate a given moral code. We are accountable for what we know, not for what we don’t know.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)
"The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour of which he is unaware. Then He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That servant who knows his master's will but does not get ready or follow his instructions will be beaten with many blows. But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded" (Luke 12:46-48)Motives are at the root of all we do or don’t do in life. (It is not difficult to establish from here what theologians like to call our “total depravity.”)
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:5-11)
We are ALL prodigal sons. We all need to come to the arms of our real Father. That is way too difficult for most of us today. Genuine human fathers are in short supply these days (see First Corinthians 4:15). Never mind, come to Jesus and He will show you the Father. Ray Stedman said in fact,
“There is only one way to God, Jesus said so, but there are many ways to come to the Messiah. Come to Jesus and He will get you to the Father.”
Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:8-11)
Forget for the moment your concerns amongst all your human interpersonal relationships (down here) as God will help you resolve most everything in this life. Your eternal destiny and everlasting home is guaranteed by the God who brought you into being in the first place. All that is required of you is a simple choice: give Jesus permission to be your Lord and He will put you under brand new management.
Notes by Lambert Dolphin
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May 6, 2022.