Liars, Thieves, Prostitutes, Adulterers, Idolaters, All Sinners: Do We Forgive As We Have Been Forgiven?

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Gospel of Luke

Luke 16:11-32 — Yesterday, we looked at this parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the prodigal son himself. Today, we look at this parable from the perspective of the eldest son. We will finish it up tomorrow with a look at it from the perspective of the father in the story.

This story, when looking at it from the perspective of the older brother, kind of reminds me of my own relationship with my brother. I only have one brother, as it seems there is in his story since there is no mention of other brothers. He is a year and a half older than I am. Talk about sibling jealousies. We had them. We use to try to get each other in trouble with our parents so that we could have feelings of superiority over the other. Like on birthdays, we would be jealous of the special attention that the other would get on those days. I don’t know why we were jealous of the other so much. Even when something good would happen to the other one, we would try to bring the other one down. The rivalry was intense. We could not celebrate with each other. The glory accorded to my brother was glory that I did not receive and vice versa. During much of my growing up, I had a tendency to get in trouble more often than my brother. He was the good son and I was the rebel. He seemed to always be more in line with doing what the parents required than me. Must be the older brother/younger brother thing. It’s not fair! A phrase that rang out constantly between us! A phrase that is central to our passage today. It was not until we grew up and got out of the house, got married, started paying bills, and raising families that we finally got over those jealousies. I am glad those days are over. When you think back on it, the jealousies were very tiring!

This good son/rebel son thing. I can see it so vividly because of my own experience. I am willing to bet that many of you out there can identify with this story as well. It is a sure bet that everyone listening to Jesus in 1st century Palestine on that day could identify with the story Jesus as he was telling it that day. In this story, the older brother had great difficulty in accepting the younger brother when he returned. He had lived the dutiful life. He had done all the right things. He had plowed the fields. He had worked hard. He had obeyed his father. He had done things in the prescribed way. Then in waltzes the younger brother who had lived a life of partying. The younger brother had seen things and done things probably that the older brother had only heard about but never would do for fear of breaking the rules. This older brother prided himself on his ability to keep all the rules and do all the right things. He figured with his brother as the example of what not to do, he would be elevated in his father’s eyes. By keeping the rules and doing it all according to plan, he figured that his father would give him special blessing. He had worked for it. He had earned it. See dad? See what I do? See I am not out there like my little brother, I am here with you doing what you say?

The older son is not happy at all to see his little brother’s return. He is upset that his dad is throwing him a party. I do everything you asked, dad. You give me no parties for doing what you asked but yet your youngest son who has lived this party lifestyle and squandered every dime you gave him. He gets a party. Why? It’s not fair! He was not filled with love for the safe return of his brother that he had probably not seen in a long time. The eldest son refused to forgive even though his dad had. His resentment over the level of celebration accorded to his little brother shows just how lost he is. He had no forgiveness in him. He was all about the rules. He kept them and His brother didn’t. His brother should be punished and he should be elevated above Him.

This story was aimed directly at the religious elite in Jesus’ day. Those who prided themselves in not breaking the Law of Moses. They developed so many rules and regulations that kept them from breaking the law that the avoidance of breaking the law had become their religion. It had also become a social separator too. If you broke the law, you were an outcast. The avoidance of sin was more important than anything else. The law was intended to show us that we need to seek God and keep Him central to our lives. The law was to show us our need for forgiveness. The law was intended to show us that we cannot be good enough to save ourselves. It was to point us to our need for a Messiah, a Savior, our need for Jesus. But keeping the rules was their god. This parable may have been spoken directly to the Pharisees when Jesus spoke it verbally but by example He speaks directly to us today through the Word. Are we as churches today not often the older brother in this story?

Do we often judge others harshly as churches for having lived a sin-filled life while we have often lived lives according to the rules? Often churches are suspicious of those who repent and turn their life around. Sometimes, we make them feel uncomfortable when they walk into our doors. So uncomfortable often that they leave our midst. When LifeSong opened up at its current location, the scrolling message on the sign outside caused quite a stir in the community. Prostitutes, thieves, liars, and other sinners welcome here is what it said. That is what we are here for. Not to separate ourselves from the world around us because we keep the rules better. We are to welcome those who want to raise themselves out of the pig sties that is their life. We should recognize ourselves as sinners too. We do not keep the rules perfectly and never will. We need our Savior just as much as the sinner who just repented. We cannot earn grace by good behavior, by keeping rules, by avoiding certain things. We sin. They sin. We all sin. We all need our Savior. Welcome the sinner back home. If someone is willing to repent of their sins and seek the same Savior as we do, we should be the first to celebrate. We should remember the gift we were given. We should remember that Jesus commanded us to make disciples not sit back and judge the world. We should remember that those who come into our house and leave their pig sty life behind means one less soul to be tormented in hell. We should rejoice and be glad.

Not only as churches but as individuals too we should be able to extend forgiveness to others as we have been forgiven. We all have situations in life where we have refused to forgive. Maybe it is a spouse who has cheated on you. Maybe it is an ex-spouse that seems hellbent on destroying for divorcing them. Maybe it is a friend that has betrayed you. Maybe it is someone who has hurt your child deeply. Maybe it is someone at work that has screwed you over more times than you can count. I am not saying that we have to be doormats for those that have hurt us or our families but if we refuse to forgive, we allow the hurt to become our god. I have a situation in my own life where forgiveness is what I must do even though there is great cynicism as to whether the change is real in another person. I want to forgive and accept that the change is real but why am I so skeptical? I must remember that Christ can do amazing things in a person’s life and that the change can be radical. It is not mine to judge. It is mine to be the prodigal son’s father when it comes to those who have previously displayed no fruits of the spirit. It is mine to demonstrate the same love as Jesus displayed. Certainly, we will see whether the fruits of the spirit exist over time but it is not ours to judge the authenticity of someone else’s salvation. We are to give them the benefit of the doubt and let their new character speak for itself. We are to accept them into the fold and nuture them. It is God’s job to know their heart. It is only ours to observe the fruits of the spirit and we should be pulling for them and cheering them on to display the fruits of the spirit, rather than being suspicious and judgmental and cheering for them to fail and show who we think they really are.

Father help me to understand that it is You that is judge and not me. Help me to remember the joy of my own salvation. Help me to love others when their turn from their sin filled lifestyle. Help me to celebrate when they quit reveling in their sins and come to you. Help me to be nurturing to those who seek You. Help me to love as you loved me. Help me to see those who seek as someone to be discipled and not made to feel as though they have to earn their win in our church doors or into my heart. Help me to love with the love that you have for us. Help me not to by cynical about someone’s salvation and allow them to bear their fruit. Allow me to forgive and not let the hurts become my reason for not loving. Help me to restore relationships just as you have restored me to yourself through the work of your Son in my life. Amen.

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