Come on over!
It’s party time!
“And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24, KJV).
The sun had set on another busy day but the fun was just getting started.
There was music and dancing and laughter.
The fattened calf showed up – strapped to a large pole roasting over an open fire. It had met its end as a symbol of repentance, restoration and rejoicing. Its well-fed life was given to the cause of glorious celebration.
The succulent aroma wafted through the open doors of the large brightly-lighted farm house.
Who doesn’t love a good party?
See him? He’s the slouched solitary figure trudging across the open field. He’s been supervising field hands all day. He’s done and headed for home.
This is the one we know as the older son. His father, host of this extravagant affair, loves this boy too. He’s different than his younger sibling but no less cared for by the generous and compassionate man of the house.
Let Jesus tell us what happens next.
“And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant” (Luke 15: 25-26, NKJV).
He knew it was some kind of party. But he was startled by what he saw. He didn’t understand.
What was the occasion for this apparent celebration? Surely he would have been informed. He would have been included in the planning.
Dozens of townspeople he recognized even at a distance. They smiled at him, some waved; others beckoned him into the house.
Jesus goes on:
And the servant “said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf’” (verse 27, NKJV).
“Your brother came home”.
“Your father ordered a feast – barbecued beef!” (The Message)
The incredulous son becomes so immediately angry that it’s apparent this is not some momentary reaction. Rather Jesus implies clearly it is the pent-up seething of years of sullen resentment – covered up but just barely.
The young man stands defiant at the entreaties to enter the house.
He can’t believe what is happening. This is so wrong in so many ways!
At this point, the religious leaders in Jesus’ audience nod in agreement. It’s about time there was some justice and virtue in this strange story. Good for the older brother! Finally somebody’s doing the right thing.
A weak father gives an immature and rebellious son gobs of money, which he throws away on filth and garbage in some big-city Sodom. Now the kid’s back with his tail between his legs and the old man pretends nothing happened and decides to throw one more wild party for this debauched and spent rebel.
At last this older son brings some sanity to this sordid business.
Word comes to the father that the boy is refusing to come in.
Earlier today this man had run to tearfully embrace his lost younger son. Now with a loving sigh he once again sets aside his dignity to go outside and plead with the angry older one.
Here’s when we see the older son as he truly is. Turns out he’s no less a disrespectful rebel to his father’s love than his kid brother had ever been.
He just kept it hidden under a self-righteous façade of joyless compliance.
Why don’t you come in son? Your brother’s in there.
The son vigorously shook his head, pulled away from his father and exploded in a bitter retort:
“‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.’”
The son raises his voice and waves his arms in anger. He points to the house.
“’Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’” (Luke 15: 29-30, NLT, emphasis added).
His father speaks in a soft but insistent voice and gently smiles at the boy.
He places his hand on his shoulder.
“’Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15: 31-32, NKJV).
The father’s tender words move us still, after 2,000 years.
But did they move this son?
Did they move the Pharisees who were listening to this beautiful story of grace and unquenchable love? Did they see themselves?
Who knows? Jesus doesn’t tell us. He intentionally leaves the ending up in the air.
Jesus knew this story is about us. We write our own ending.
What did the son do? What do we do?
Do we stay or do we go?
Do we come in from the cold and warmly embrace God’s amazing grace? Do we love and accept others – no matter who they are or what they’ve done?
Even to us?
Do we forgive?
Or do we stand outside in the dark – tightly clenching our self-righteous bitterness and resentment and wounded memories with hands as cold as ice and hearts like stone?
Love is the ultimate evidence of our faith.
Come in. Your brother is here.
This story is about you and me.
Let this be how it ends.