Many of us have “heroes”—people we would like to emulate and pattern our lives after. Personalities rub off on us, and without always being aware of it, we are influenced by their behavior. You and I are very contagious when it comes to attitudes and actions. Tell me who your heroes are, and I will introduce you to yourself, because what or who we admire usually becomes part of us.
One of my heroes is the father in the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. He welcomed his wayward son home, despite the fact that the son had squandered his birthright and fellowshipped with pigs. It’s a classic story of grace and forgiveness on the part of the father. I know parents who try to hold on to their kids, even when they are grown, and this produces a lot of dysfunction and heartache.
There’s an old joke about a young man who came in one day and said to his father, “I want the money that I worked for.” When asked what he planned to do with it, the son said, “I want to go to Las Vegas to see the bright lights and kick my heels up and pass a good time with win, women and song.” The father replied, “Son, I have just one request.” “What’s that, Dad?” the son inquired. “Take me with you!” That story may contain more truth than poetry. However, this was not the case with the prodigal son’s father, who forgave him unconditionally.
This parable has a powerful message today as much as when Jesus gave it. It says we can get into “heap-big trouble” when we have no boundaries; when our value system is weak. Many people live by the philosophy: “Anything goes”. The Ten Commandments are just as appropriate today as they were centuries ago. We have freedom of choice, which can be violated. It’s good that we are not puppets on a string, but we can stand in our own way, becoming our own worst enemy.
There’s not enough laws to cover all aspects of human behavior. There never will be. Perhaps the greatest law is within ourselves. Unless we have an “inner policeman”, a sense of conscience, we can be self-destructive to ourselves and to others. We can hurt people—even the people who brought us into this world—those we love most.
The older brother had done things right. He had stayed home and helped his dad. His problem was a terrible attitude. When he heard about his kid brother wasting his money and his dad giving him a party, he became jealous, angry and full of self-pity. It does seem unfair. His dad was rewarding the wayward son; and there he was, without any recognition for his faithfulness. The problem child always gets more attention than the others—fair or not. One son or daughter seems to get “the blessing” from parents, while the other siblings complain about parental favoritism. It’s a familiar story. I think the point Jesus wanted to emphasize was the father’s eagerness to forgive, and to compare it to the forgiveness of God.
Sin is not always something physical, such as murder or stealing or adultery. Sin is also a state of mind and emotion; a spiritual condition that separates us from God. It’s not just killing; it’s hate. It’s not just adultery; it’s lust.
I believe salvation is always specific. What are we saved from? What are we saved for? Some are saved from being an alcoholic, or a negative attitude, or an adulterer. I believe we can get “unsaved” in a hurry by falling back into old habits or attitudes. We call it “falling from grace”.
I will close this with the story of a woman whose son was killed accidentally. He was a good athlete, honor student and more. One night, she dreamed that she could have him back for five minutes. Which experience would she choose? Would it be when he was head of his class? Would it be when he was making a touchdown or receiving an award? No, she said, “If I could have him back for a brief time, it would be when he disobeyed her one day when he came in, put his arms around her and asked for forgiveness.” She explained, “I saw such love in his eyes.”
I believe we have fellowship with God, not during the high moments of praise and winning or doing great things. I believe it’s when we fall on our knees in humility and ask for forgiveness. This is the God, like the prodigal son’s father, who waits for us to come home. Amen.