Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son. Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives. Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son). But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship. And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all. I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.
Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God. We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction. It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap. But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him. Either way, it is rebellion. And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession. You will not find a more perfect confession in all of scripture than Jesus’ prodigal character’s confession to his father…acknowledgment of the scope of the sin and complete acceptance of the consequences. From your own season of rebellion, once you have determined to find your way back to a right relationship, the pathway is clear: confession.
Seasons of Betrayal. Fewer of us have experienced this season than the season of rebellion, but it is common nonetheless. We sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice for someone we love, we become transparent and vulnerable to them, we let them into our secret soft places of the heart…and they betray us. In those seasons, we relate to the father of the prodigal. And then there is a season of suffering. We grieve the loss of a love relationship with that person. We experience a whole host of feelings for that person and about that person, ranging from hate to anger to pity to a deep longing to restore a relationship and then back again. It is an emotionally chaotic time, wrought with backbreaking twists and turns. And the father in Jesus’ story eventually gets to forgiveness. In our season of betrayal, there is suffering and there is unspeakable pain, but in the end, if we determine that the relationship is something we desperately want, Jesus gives us the way back: forgiveness.
Seasons of Injustice. We all experience feelings of injustice from time to time. But then there are moments or seasons of the kind of profound unfairness that leaves an emotional mark on us. There are those times when, after all our sacrifices and rule-keeping and doing things the “right” way, some other lazy, rule-breaking rebel is rewarded far beyond anything we have ever experienced ourselves. These are the times when bad things happen to good people and when amazing, terrific things happen to truly bad people. We just look on with disgust and begin to wonder whether God is really God at all. In Jesus’ story, it is the older brother who experiences the “injustice”. And Jesus demonstrates that the older brother’s way back into a right relationship with his family is to let go of his demand for justice and to pursue his own level of forgiveness. In our season of injustice, we often must choose what is more important to us: the relationship or justice. And when we choose the relationship, the way back is to let go of our demand for justice.
Maybe you can relate to each of these characters. Maybe there is one in particular with whom you best relate right now, because you are in such a “season”. Jesus’ point is pretty simple, actually. There is a way back. You need only make the decision to choose it.