It’s never too late to stop doing the things you wish you weren’t doing.
I don’t know if I am supposed to play favorites when it comes to books of the Bible but I do.
Luke is my favorite.
I like the way he told the stories. His task was to tell someone else about what had been happening with this Jesus guy and the followers he acquired.
My favorite story comes from Luke 15. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City preaches a sermon about Luke 15 that really hits home for me.
Jesus spoke in parables to explain things. They were like the analogies I like to use in columns except they made sense.
The first sentence in Luke 15 tells you a lot. It says that Jesus was eating a meal with some tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees were not impressed. They grumbled. A lot of people in churches today still grumble. That’s when Jesus told the story of the Prodigal son.
Everyone knows about the prodigal son. Some people call him the lost son.
But as Keller points out, the story in Luke 15 is really about two lost sons.
The first one is easy.
A man had two sons and a fortune. The younger son asked for his inheritance. Basically, the son was telling his father that he wished he was already dead so he could have his share of the stuff around the farm.
Dad gave him what he asked for and, as everyone remembers, the son squanders it on sex, drugs and music played on a lyre. (Rock and roll was about 2,000 years in the future but I bet this kid would have liked it.)
So after the cash was gone, junior got tired of working for a living and not having enough to eat. So he decided to go back and see if his father would at least take him back and make him a servant.
The best part of the story is the scene of the father seeing his long lost son returning – dirty, smelly and dead broke. Instead of making his son a servant, the father ran to him and welcomed him home. He put nice clothes on him, gave him a ring and killed the fatted calf to get that party started.
When the big brother heard about the party, he was less excited. He refused to go into the party. Guess what, the father ran to him too.
The older boy told the father that he had always obeyed him and worked hard on the farm and the father had never even given him a goat.
Everyone catches that the first son was bad because it’s easy to see someone living life in the fast lane. But few people realize the second son is in a place that is equally bad.
The only reason he ever did anything was to get what he “deserved” from the father. His motivations were equally bad in all of his goodness. His actions just masked them better.
Remember, in this scene, Jesus was talking to tax collectors and sinners (the younger sons) and Pharisees (the second sons).
Everyone knows that a man wasting his money on drugs and prostitutes is wrong. But how many people tithe because they think God will protect them from being laid off by the company or go to church because God will owe them a favor and keep their kids healthy or let their favorite team win the big game?
Jesus was showing both the sinners and Pharisees that they needed the Father and he was reaching out to both of them.
In Jesus’ parable, the show stops right after the father asked the older son to come in to the party. We don’t know what happened next.
There are so many alternate endings to this show.
I have a version that I like to imagine when I consider how it ended.
I want to believe that after being lost for a while, the younger son realized the love the father had for him and became a loving son who did everything he could to in an effort to repay his father for taking him back. I also want to believe the older son came around as well. I hope he realized how good his father was and celebrated the return of his prodigal brother at the party.
I hope he learned from his father how much he is loved and how much he should love others so that he could stop following rules as a way to try to manipulate his dad and get things.
Why do I like that scenario so much? I want to believe it because I am the 42-year-old fundamentalist, socially conservative, church-every-Sunday guy who has never even tasted alcohol.
But I also know a little bit about the younger brother and leaving the reservation for a little while and hoping and praying you haven’t gone too far to get back home.
I’m glad the father reached out to both of them because I have been both of them, sometimes I still am.
The story has two themes.
Both brothers need the father and motivation is everything.
It’s never too late to stop doing the things you wish you weren’t doing, or to start doing the right things for the right reason.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org