[I hope you’ll take a look at the 1st three posts or if you’d prefer to view the entire essay you can find it on barneywiget.com.]
The Father loves outer circle sinners and wants his inner circle sons to love them too (Luke 15:11-32)
The most familiar of the three stories is what we typically call the Prodigal Son Parable. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one probably contains the largest cache of spiritual themes and lessons. Each character is significant. There’s the defiant Outer Circle Son who rebelled and later repented. There’s the Pharisaical Inner Circle Son who detested his father’s fawning over his Outer Circle poor excuse for a brother. And then there’s the father who loves his sons fervidly and equally – both the Inner and Outer Circle one. Both sons broke their father’s heart. One left home, while the other one was never really “at home” to begin with. He was as lost as his younger brother, albeit lost while at home. The younger was lost in his rebellion with an empty stomach and the other was lost in his religion with an empty heart. Both needed to come home!
Entitled Inner Circlers – like the oldest son – are revolted by the father’s love for lost and found sons. They want to make the kingdom about themselves and neglect, if not outright reject, Outer Circlers, people that aren’t like them, and maybe never will be.
The religious son saw his brother in a completely different way than did the father. All the father could see was his son come home – his beloved boy who he’d been patiently waiting for. Unable to contain his happiness he threw a party to commemorate the once lost, now found, son. But the firstborn saw nothing but a ragged, odorous, and pitiful profligate. He had no compassion, no joy for his return. “You asked for a position on father’s staff of servants, that’s the best you can expect. Frankly, if I were Dad, I wouldn’t let you in the house let alone throw you a party!”
The older brother had a point, you know. His little brother ruined his own life. No one forced him to waste his inheritance. His decrepit condition was due to his shameful choices. “What do you expect? You did this on your own. You have no one to blame but yourself!”
“All these years I’ve been slaving for you and you never gave me a party!”
Inner Circlers boast that they’re essentially better than Outer Circlers. “I’ve kept all the rules, paid all my dues, done all my chores, and he gets the party!” Outer Circlers reject the party and resent anyone who enjoys the father’s house. The meal, the music, and the merriment of the kingdom are not part of their religion, especially if there are going to be sinners there.
The older brother gladly let his wanderlust brother go in order to get more for himself and doesn’t seem to have made any effort to do what older brothers do, and at least try to talk him out of leaving. He had no desire to share the house with anyone, let alone such stupid sons as this one.
The story ends before we know how it turns out. The Spirit, no doubt, was tugging on the Inner Circlers listening. They knew enough to know that he was addressing their entitled spiritual self-centeredness. He left the story unfinished so that we would see ourselves in it. Like a movie with alternative endings, this story could end in a number of ways. The best of which is where oldest son gets it. He sees his slavish and self-centered “relationship” to the father and admits he’s jealous of his irresponsible brother. He repents of his unkindness and resistance to be loved unconditionally and joins the party. He relinquishes his Inner Circle status earned by outward obedience and he reasons that if his father loves Outer Circlers, so should he.
Instead of glowering at his brother and standing guard at the door to keep him out until after an intense interrogation he cleans up, he stands at the door with arms open wide to welcome him home.
One way to know if you’re an Inner Circler or Outer Circler is whether or not you are willing to share the “house” with people who’ve messed up their lives with bad choices, especially before you see proof of the genuineness of their repentance. How do you normally respond to a prodigal’s return?
o With open arms and heart
How would you depict your relationship with God? No, really! In fact, since it’s pretty easy to be in the dark about yourself about your own spirituality, you should ask someone else to be honest about how they see you.
o Slavishly obedient to God
o Entitled to more than you’re currently getting from God
o Sullenly spiritual
o Grateful to be partying with God
o Glad to welcome anyone (even very bad people) to the party