THE OTHER PRODIGAL SON
Luke 15 : 11 – 32
1. Jesus told a story about two sons. One of them can easily be us. Of the two, one demanded freedom. So father divided all assets between the two. The younger one took off with all the money he inherited and had good time and spent it all. The older one stayed home and continued to work for the family business. The younger one became destitute and nearly starved. But he decided to go home and ask for father”s forgiveness. The father forgave him and welcomed him. The one who stayed home got very angry seeing such soft-heartedness in the father, and did not go into the house to join the homecoming celebration.
2. The problem of the younger son is easy for us to understand. It is a good story to speak about incredible love of God, to speak about his generosity and forgiveness. But those of us who come to church usually manage to stay away from the kind of temptation that younger son succumbed to. I think that we are more like the older son.
3. He stayed home and remained a good boy but got angry about the father”s generosity and forgiveness. We hear the story of the older son less often, because he can easily be us. It is easier to think that other people have problems, but not us. And we don”t want another person to point out unpleasant truth about ourselves.
I was once completely surprised by a person who came to me after the service and declared that he would never come back to church. He said that I spoke about him in my sermon. I didn”t. In fact, I did not know him.
Now then, what were the problems of the one who stayed home? I want to mention three. There can be more.
4. First is the question of how you look at another person in a community. When the older son complained about his own brother, he basically disowned him. When speaking to his father, he refereed to his younger brother as "your son". It was the father who reminded him that the one who came back was also his "brother", his own flesh and blood. When does a man you grow up with, a brother becomes "your" son, not my brother?
When a community of people is bound by mutual affection and respect, everybody should be everyone else”s concern of everybody else”s. When that sentiment disappears, a person becomes somebody else”s concern, not "mine". It is a subtle switch but a significant change in the way of looking at another person. You can not deny a family tie for convenience. But he disowned his own brother. The trouble of this world often comes from our tendency to look at other people, when it is inconvenient, as though they have nothing to do with us. But they suddenly becomes great friends when they suit our needs. Certainly the older brother remained good and honest, a hard working man. But like St. Paul said, "even if I give away all my possessions for good causes, if I do not have love, I am nothing." That was his first problem.
5. Secondly, the question of what your family means to you. When the older brother complained about his father”s soft-heartedness, the older son said, "This is not faire. I worked for you like a slave, but you have not killed even a billy goat for me." But the father said, "What are you complaining about, son. You have always been with me. And you know very well that what is mine is always yours." Here is the man who stayed home and helped his father in the business, while the other one wasted his inheritance and nearly ruined himself. He could not see how lucky he was for being able to resist temptation; he always had a job, ate well, kept his dignity, and stayed within the loving family. We too often forget how blessed we are for not having been away from God.
There is also a question of the quality of the relationship. Are material things more important than human relationships? If you have enough money, don”t you still need a family who loves you? This is a very important question today. I believe that our society is in trouble, because increasingly people believe that wealth is more important than people.
One of my sisters was once nearly adopted by the more affluent aunt and uncle. They had no child of their own, and one of my sisters was their favourite ever since she was born. My sister liked them, too. They lived better because of their wealth. They proposed adopting her, when my sister was ten. Legal adoption between relatives is not unusual occurrence in Japan. It did not look like a permanent separation, we could see her anytime. We did not think that it was a bad idea. But after a few months of trial, my sister came home. I still remember what she said: "I don”t need anything. Can I stay with you?" So the adoption plan was off. We were never rich, ( what do you expect of a family of a clergyman?) but we have remained a close knit family.
The shape of the families may be changing today. But I believe that the basic need of human beings to live in a community of supportive people remains, be it a family, a circle of friends, or caring neighbours. When that need diminishes and the materials things take over in our order of priority, our society will be truly ruined.It would be a truly sick society where a child would say to the parents, "I don”t need you, I”ve got enough money."
6. And the most important mark of such a caring community is readiness to share. As the father said, "What is mine is always yours." It is such a comforting thought, isn”t it? This is God”s world, and he says, "What is mine is yours." You see, the problem of both sons was that they did not acknowledge that.
The one who got away thought, "all I have is mine and mine alone." He began to enjoy freedom without responsibility. "It”s mine, it”s mine. I don”t have to say anything to anybody about the way I spend this money." He forgot that it was once his father”s money. There was no sense of appreciation. Where there is no appreciation, there is no responsibility.
The problem of the older son, on the other hand, was the fact that he took responsibility only as a burden. When one sees an act of love only as a burden, one forgets about the blessing and joy that comes along with the responsibility. Love is both blessing and responsibility, give and take. It creates a sharing community where what God has given us is yours and mine, where everything is ours.