Throughout history, the tendency to exclude one another based on race, sex, religion, class, etc. has strained not only the way human beings relate to one another but how human beings relate to God. Because of misinformation about God, many people deny the existence of God. Many others believe that God exists but reject Him, thinking — we reject Him because He first rejected us.
One of the most beautiful illustrations of how God, as the Father of all humanity (Mal. 2:10), deals with our ignorance is a parable Jesus told about two sons and a father:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to his father, “Give me now the part of your property that I am supposed to receive someday.”
So the father divided his wealth between his two sons.
A few days later the younger son gathered up all that he had and left. He traveled far away to another country, and there he wasted his money living like a fool. After he spent everything he had, there was a terrible famine throughout the country. He was hungry and needed money. So he went and got a job with one of the people who lived there. The man sent him into the fields to feed pigs. He was so hungry that he wanted to eat the food the pigs were eating. But no one gave him anything.
The son realized that he had been very foolish. He thought, “All my father’s hired workers have plenty of food. But here I am, almost dead because I have nothing to eat. I will leave and go to my father. I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against God and have done wrong to you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But let me be like one of your hired workers.”
So he left and went to his father.
While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and felt sorry for him. So he ran to him and hugged and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against God and have done wrong to you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Hurry! Bring the best clothes and put them on him. Also, put a ring on his finger and good sandals on his feet. And bring our best calf and kill it so that we can celebrate with plenty to eat. My son was dead, but now he is alive again! He was lost, but now he is found!”
So they began to have a party.
The older son had been out in the field. When he came near the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. So he called to one of the servant boys and asked, “What does all this mean?”
The boy said, “Your brother has come back, and your father killed the best calf to eat. He is happy because he has his son back safe and sound.”
The older son was angry and would not go in to the party.
So his father went out and begged him to come in.
But he said to his father, “Look, for all these years I have worked like a slave for you. I have always done what you told me to do, and you never gave me even a young goat for a party with my friends. But then this son of yours comes home after wasting your money on prostitutes, and you kill the best calf for him!”
His father said to him, “Oh, my son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this was a day to be happy and celebrate. Your brother was dead, but now he is alive. He was lost, but now he is found.”
About the Younger Son
Interpretations of this parable offered by preachers and Bible teachers often place undue emphasis on the wayward son’s repentance. Repentance, although important, isn’t the point of this story. If it were, we wouldn’t see the father running to his son BEFORE hearing the son’s confession.
For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them. (Saint Augustine of Hippo)
Interestingly, the younger son’s repentance (if we were to compare it to the repentance associated with salvation) was the first step in a two-part plan to earn his own salvation. Notice his next intended step was to save his own life by working for the father as a servant.
About the Older Son
To understand the older son’s role in the story, we must turn to the context, to the reason Jesus began telling this entire series of lost-and-found parables:
Many tax collectors and sinners came to listen to Jesus. Then the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to complain, “Look, this man welcomes sinners and even eats with them!”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law in that day and age can be compared to today’s religious people who go around deciding who’s in and who’s out in the Reign of God. They say things like, “You can’t possibly be saved, because you ___ (fill in the blank with the sin or perceived sin).” Today, their version of the tax collectors and sinners can include almost anyone — people who view pornography, have abortions, get tattoos, do illegal drugs, crossdress, commit crimes, have sex outside of marriage, have sex within marriage after divorce, have sex with someone of the same gender, gamble, vote for Democrats, make racist comments in public, wear pants (females), have long hair (males), etc. The list goes on and on, but varies in length and content according to the tribe of the modern-day Pharisee. The point is, they exclude others, and in doing so, they exclude themselves. How so? Look at the older brother in the parable.
The older brother believed his identity as a son was established because of his faithfulness to the father in comparison to the younger brother’s faithlessness. Like the younger brother, he believed good things from the father were earned.
About the Father
The default position of the father was that of grace. He welcomed home the son who screwed up and completely ignored the idea that this son should earn his salvation. He welcomed to the party the son who wanted to exclude the son who screwed up and reminded him, “everything I have is yours” — not earned, but freely given.
The irony in this story is that in finding the younger son, the father loses the older son. The story ends with the father reasoning with the older son, and in my opinion, a sort of choose-your-own ending. What kind of relationship will the older son have with the father, now that he disapproves of the father’s generous grace and reconciliation toward the undeserving younger son? Will he continue to exclude himself from the celebration?
The point of the story is that the father never gives up on either son.
How This Story Applies to Us
If we find ourselves excluded from the Reconciliation Party, it isn’t because God excludes us, it’s because we exclude others, disapproving of God’s grace toward those we deem undeserving, and in doing so, we exclude ourselves.
Here is a vision worthy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – GOD ALL IN ALL. And now, this ultimate reality must begin in us who have received the call to sonship. If this is what fills the heart of Christ; if this expresses the one end of the work of Christ, then, if I would have the Spirit of Christ in me, the motto of my life must be: Everything made subject and swallowed up INTO HIM “that God may be all in all.” What a life that will be when that reality becomes our banner! To serve the Father fully, wholly, only, to have Him all in all! That He is not ALL in all at the present is quite obvious, for only a fraction have faintly felt that God was indeed ALL to them. Some have known Him as their Saviour, some have experienced Him as their Healer, some have received gracious gifts from His hands, some have acknowledged Him as their Lord, but some have found Him as their ALL. Happy are they who know Him thus! They have tasted of the cup ineffable, which quenches every thirst and satisfies completely and forever. (J. Preston Eby)