Once heard a story about a woman from New York high society who after her husband of 25 years left her, after the lucrative divorce settlement – everyone expected her to continue to live the NY high society life – but she didn’t she went to Rwanda and opened an orphanage for children whose parents had been slaughtered in the genocide. When Vogue magazine interviewed her – she was quoted as saying “ I am angry that no-one ever told me that life could be this good.” It is so easy in life to think that you have the real thing, when in fact you only have a poor substitute.
A friend of mine recently showed me some new research that says that the number one goal of people between the age of 18-25 is to become rich and that the same still stands for the 25-35 year old demographic. The NY society woman would say – why settle for 2nd best – for fools gold!!!
Today, I want to lead you over the horizon and show you what God really has on offer for you. But first I want you to spend some time in your groups chatting about what may have been percolating from last week – talk, and about your readings.
One comes from Jesus, it’s one of the most powerful stories that Jesus ever told.
Well known as the story of the ‘prodigal son’ in Luke 15.
You may have heard it before…and thought you had it figured out.
Jesus tells a story of a man with two sons. The younger son asks for his part of his inheritance early, then runs away to a foreign country with dad’s money, loses it all, and ends up working for foreigners and then ends up destitute, cleaning their pig troughs. He finally comes to his senses, heads home with a plan to ask his father to employ him like a servant, and his father runs out to meet him, give him a robe and ring, throws a giant party with the fatted calf. The older brother stays home, helps out on the farm, and ends up jealous of his brother’s party. His father tries to smooth things over, and says how happy he is to have found his lost son.
Simple enough, right?
But there is more…we’re going to retell it, and go beyond the simple explanations…to see that Jesus’ story means much more than this simple summary. Try to hear it through the ears of the first audience, Jesus’ Jewish friends and community.
- Starts with the younger son approaching his father -asks for inheritance.
- Traditionally, Jewish father was expected to not hand out any inheritance until the very evening of his life, when he would give 2/3 to his older son, and 1/3 to his younger son.
- So here is the one son asking for his third of the inheritance NOW, not when his father dies. Basically saying – $ is more important to me than you – I wish you were dead
- Audience expects Father to punish him– imagine their shock that the father splits up his possessions amongst the two.
- The son does not stop there – he sells the land – a further insult – by Jewish tradition it was stated that in a rare instance where the inheritance was divided the sons could not receive money until his father dies, so that the father can be taken care of – but the son goes and sells the land – probably at a bargain – because the new owner can’t lay claim until the father dies – now two people want father dead (son, and owner).
- Top it all off he goes to a foreign land – we miss the point of this…he is not loading the backpack to travel to Europe to find himself…he is going to live with the pagans, the gentiles, he dishonours his Jewishness in desolate living.
- Famine — $ gone
- Forced to work for a gentile with pigs…pigs were the most unclean of all animals and now this young man brings not only dishonour upon himself, his father, but upon his entire nation.
- It would be here that the original listeners of the story would expect an ending. Serves the guy right, he should starve and die, this is exactly what he deserved for not honouring his father.
But then there is a second son – the older son.
- Just as lost as the younger son.
- 1st c Jewish family – clear social order…the role of the OS to be a mediator and a reconciler…
- The moment his brother asks he should step in and make it right…Dad he didn’t mean what he said – and should have taken him out behind the barn and straightened him out.
- But he doesn’t…Why?
- Because he knew what was coming – his father separates out the funds…and he gets by law a double portion (2/3)…so he keeps his mouth shut for his own sake…his brother takes the fall, but he still gets the money.
- When the younger brother finally returns home, the older one starts pouting…
- When the father comes out to him asking him what is wrong, and invites him to come back to the party, he insults his father even furrther by refusing.
- His response must have been through clenched teeth – All these years I have served you…you owe me…you often find this type of lostness in churches – I have…
- The audience is awestruck…this guy has two lousy sons.
Finally lets take a look at the Father – from the moment the son acknowledges his wrong he is there to restore him.
- As said – Jewish culture had clearly defined roles.
- Older, especially men in culture were imbued with respect, honour, and dignity.
- To uphold that honour…1 thing you never did was run…if your house was on fire you walk out with the dignity befitting your rank…you walked too fast…talk of the town.
- Like officers in our military always walk, and never run or march, to show their rank and position.
- In Jewish culture then, and the military culture of today, to run was to throw away your dignity
Question: In the story of the two sons, which of the sons did you relate to most? Why? What part of the story most engaged you? Why do you think Jesus told this story?