I picked out the things that I wanted and headed straight for the cash register. There was just one person being checked out so here I was next in line. I laid my three or four items on the counter. The lady that was ahead of me was paying for her items and the cashier was almost done ringing her up. Just then the lady happened to turn. Then she turned toward me. “Did you know there are a lot of people upset with you?” I looked over to where she was looking and to my surprise there was a line all the way back in the store. It seems they had a big sale and it was “Saturday Madness.” The rules of the cash register were that the line formed about fifteen feet from the purchase area and the next person in line got called up when the cashier was ready for them. So here I was with my stuff I was ready to purchase immediately, walking back to the end of the line way back in the store! That is the way it should be right? It reminds me of when we were kids in school and were lined up in the cafeteria line. Maybe one of the other kids got out of line for some reason. When they came back the others wouldn’t let them back in. “No cuts”, was the slogan everyone used. In other words the ones who stay in line get rewarded for it and the ones who get out have to start all over. We all like things in black and white and when changes are made to our way of thinking it doesn’t go over well! There are times we cry out “that’s just not fair.”
Two different members of Detroit teams faced the same kind of issues recently. The football team had a pass receiver who was very talented. He was so talented he figured he should be the number one receiver on the team and it’s first option. The coach felt that there was another receiver on the team that deserved being number one. In a rebellious action almost unheard of this receiver started doing things on his own. In a game he purposely lined up out of the position the coach wanted him to be in. It didn’t take long before he found himself out of the game. Even though this receiver has great talents, he was eventually released from the team. The second member was on the Detroit Tigers baseball team. He had pitched very well the whole season as a starter, but when it was time for the playoffs a question came up. You see there were five starting pitchers and in the playoffs only four starting spots were needed. He was asked if he were the one, (which he eventually was) that had to go to the bullpen was he good with that? His answer showed where his heart and mind was! “Whatever he decides he wants me to do I will do it to the best of my ability!”
In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son. In the first two verses we get the context for the message. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmered, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” They proudly considered themselves the religious leaders and any religious leader was too good to be associated with the tax collectors and sinners! Knowing what they were thinking and saying, Jesus mentioned two different scenarios for them to consider before he told the prodigal son parable. One was about a man who had 100 sheep and lost one. He would make every effort to find his lost sheep. The second was about a lady losing one of her ten silver coins. How she would sweep the house and seek diligently until she found it. In both cases the man and lady knew how things should be. They wanted all of their sheep or all of their coins intact. When one was missing things were not the way they were supposed to be, much like when we happen to count our money and find that we are short twenty dollars.
The Bible never mentions the word “prodigal.” Through the years people have linked the term to the description of the son Jesus mentions in his parable. Prodigal by definition is “one who is given to wasteful luxury or extravagance.” Following the two examples mentioned above Jesus starts the parable beginning in verse 11. And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to me. And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the swine. And he would gladly have fed on 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 to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion on him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to make merry.
We’ve all heard this story and most of the time the emphasis is placed on the forgiveness the father extends to his wayward son, but I’d like to talk about the older brothers attitude. The story goes that the older brother heard the celebration while he was out in the field and he asked one of the servants what it meant? He was told that his brother had come back and a fatted calf had been killed to celebrate the event! The older brother became very angry and stayed away from the celebration. When the father realized his oldest son was away, he went out and found him. The older son was very clear that he didn’t agree with the decision his father made. In his opinion this was not the way things should be! Starting with verse 29 the older brother states to his father “Lo these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed him the fatted calf!” The father answers his son in verses 31 and 32. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
The story ends before we find out how the oldest son reacted to his fathers words and if he accepted them? Does he come back to his senses like the younger son did when he returned or does he continue in his pride and self-righteousness? Notice that pride separated both of the sons from their loving father. The youngest son pridefully took all of his inheritance and left. The older son let his own pride and self righteousness interfere with his relationship with his father. While pride took the youngest son away from his father, humbleness put him back into his fathers arms! That is how God is! When we humble ourselves he hears our prayers and forgives our sins! God is all about having us in right relationship with him! When we come back to him it is a reason to celebrate much like finding the sheep that was lost! It is not known whether the oldest son swallowed his pride and self righteousness, humbled himself and got close to his father again. We do not know if he accepted the situation as it was or if he lived the rest of his life in unforgiveness?
It’s obvious that the father had a strong opinion of how things should be! He wanted to be close to both of his sons and he wanted them to share in his wealth. When the younger son left he broke his fathers heart. Things were no longer the same as he desired them to be. Yet, the loving father granted his younger sons desire to break fellowship because true love could only be a two way street. Though it hurt him deeply he didn’t stand in the way. The father was thrilled when his youngest son came back! Things would be the way they should be again! He thought his oldest son would be happy too and was surprised by his selfish, prideful attitude.
The oldest sons attitude still lives today. Sometimes when we see things work in someone’s favor that seems undeserving we cry out “that’s not fair!” The oldest sons position exemplifies the attitude we all are taught regarding fair play. He liked the idea that the younger son got what he deserved and it is only right that he, (being the faithful son), will get rewarded! After all he had always been there for his father! His attitude toward his brother did not show love, only selfish pride as he pridefully considered himself better. It was like his brother got out of the line and I’m not going to let him back in… No Cuts! His brother made a bad decision so it was fair that he must suffer the consequences and go to the back of the line! The older brother pridefully liked the idea that he was the faithful one and treasured all of the benefits that he thought came with it! When his brother returned he was bitter for what his brother did and the fact that his father would consider forgiving him. When the father had the big celebration, he felt things were totally unfair. Feeling that he (the faithful brother) was not appreciated, he didn’t come to the celebration. It was the equivalent of rebelling against his father much like the receiver did when he lined up wrong on purpose. When circumstances change we have to realize that our place on the team is still secure. The father loved his older son just as much as he ever did! There are times in our lives that God may switch us to a different role. Sometimes the decision doesn’t seem fair in our way of thinking. When God decides to use us differently or exalt someone else, we need to trust our coach that he knows what is best! Our thoughts should only be on what is best for the team! Sometimes our thinking should be adjusted as we take our minds off of ourselves. I’m sure that God is pleased when we have the pitchers attitude that whatever he decides my role is I will perform it to the best of our ability! Likewise when our Heavenly Father forgives our brothers (and it doesn’t seem fair) we need to swallow our selfish pride, humble ourselves, and forgive them also! When we take this attitude we become a reflection of our Heavenly Father who is always willing to forgive and forget all of our trespasses when we are humbled and truly sorry!