25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never [a]neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your [b]wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you [c]have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
So, prior to last week's post on the first part of this story, I would have seen this part of the story rather differently, but now that I've had the explanation of how the people of the audience would have viewed the circumstances of the story, that makes things look a little different. I really like learning about how the culture at the time would have understood the story differently than we do. I really liked this paragraph from John MacArthur's sermon The Legalistic Son :
Now remember, the Pharisees are listening to all this and they're saying, "This whole thing is a big story of shame...a shameful request, a shameful response, a shameful rebellion, a shameful repentance." He's going to come back, "Ah, now the father's going to do something honorable." But the father gives the son a shameful reception. Amazing, verse 20, "He gets up, comes to his father. He arrives in stinking garments that smell like a pig." He has nothing at all, he's destitute, absolutely bankrupt, absolutely nothing. His father seems him a long way off which indicates the father's actually been waiting for him, hoping for him, suffering in silence in his absence, loving him even while he's gone. The father sees him, feels compassion for him and ran...he runs right through town, which a nobleman in the Middle East do not do. That is unacceptable shameful behavior. First of all, you don't let your legs be shown in public. But he runs and he runs through town to get to the boy before the boy gets to town because when he arrives in town, the whole community is going to heap scorn and disdain and mockery on him because that's what they're supposed to do. That's part of his penalty for the way he behaved toward his father. The father takes the shame that should belong to the son. He does a scandalous and shameful thing, runs through town before the son ever gets there, saves him from the shame, throws his arms around him, kisses him all over the head, which is tantamount to saying, "You're a son and I receive you as a son. All is forgiven, all is past. Trusting in me and coming, repenting of your sin is all I ask." And here is the glory of salvation, folks, God forgives the one who asks and who repents without any works, with nothing to commend him in his filthy rotten stinking rags as a beggar who possesses nothing and who can earn nothing. This is gracious salvation.
The older brother is, understandably, irritated that his "goodness" hasn't been rewarded as he feels it should and his brother's shameful rebellion is being rewarded. I think many of us can identify a bit with the older brother. Why are we celebrating that a delinquent came back and not celebrating the faithfulness and diligence of the one who has been there the whole time? That's not fair! I understand the older brother's frustration.
But what I never thought about before was that the older son and his attitude would represent the Pharisees!
Now here comes somebody [the first son] who will do something that the Pharisees think is the honorable thing to do. This is our boy. This is our guy.
Verse 25, "And in..." By the way, meeting him, they meet themselves. This is their guy. This is they. "His older son was in the field." Now he's been out in the field working that day as much as landowners work, sitting under a shade tree making sure everybody else does what they need to, overseeing is what they do. In fact, noblemen in the Middle East didn't usually work. That was somehow beneath their dignity at a certain point. But anyway, he was out in the field. What strikes me is that the father hasn't told him anything. The father certainly hasn't been looking for him. The father hasn't sent a messenger out to the field wherever he was to say, "Hey, hey, hey, your brother's back and we're going to have a party, come on in, greet your brother, embrace your brother, rejoice with me and help me get this party off the ground." Because, look, he was the number one primary party planner in the family. That was the job of the firstborn son, he had the responsibility to carry off all the events of the family, particularly those that were designed to be in honor of the family. And the party was in honor of the family, not so much the son who came back, but the father who took him back, reconciled him.
But finally they [the Pharisees] have somebody they can identify with, somebody who knows what honor is. And he [the older son] comes to approach the house.
Not having been included in anything at all. The father knows that. He knows he has no interest in him. He knows he has no concern for his joy. He knows he doesn't care about his younger brother. He knows that. He has no love for his father, no desire to honor his father, no respect for his father, no interest in what pleases his father. He has no compassion on his father's grieving heart for the wayward son. He doesn't care at all about his brother. He's a Pharisee, he is a Pharisee. On the outside he upholds all the conventional modes of external honor.
So the older son rebels against and shames his family yet more by refusing to join the party. If he were a loving, compassionate, kind and caring son (or brother, for that matter), he would celebrate his brother's return and share his father's joy. But no. He refuses to go inside.
When the information, obviously, about the older son reaches the father, the word comes to him that his son is on the outside and he's not going to come in. He now knows he has his second rebel son and we're now going to find out how God feels about religious hypocrites. What they would have expected...what they would have expected was that the father would be absolutely insulted by this. It is a blatant insult. It is an utter disregard for the father's honor, the father's joy, the brother's well-being. He shows himself as having no love for either of them. And the traditional Middle Eastern response would be to take the son and give him a public beating for such dishonor. But nothing goes the way you'd think it's going to go in this story. It's just one breach of perceived honor after another after another, after another, after another. But instead of the father ordering him to be beaten and locked in a room somewhere until he can be dealt with, the insulted dishonored father comes out. And he starts begging him. Here he shows up again in condescension. Here he shows up again in mercy. Here he shows up again in compassion and love and humility and kindness, leaves the party, comes out, goes into the night with everybody watching and the buzz sure is going to go through and they know what's going on. Another act of selfless love kindly toward this son in the same way that he ran to embrace the younger son. He goes out in mercy and he reaches to the hypocrite the same way he reached to the rebel.
And he pleads with him, and he calls him to come to the kingdom, to come to his house, to come to the celebration. And this son with whom the Pharisees and scribes are so clearly identified should have brought them face-to-face with themselves and their complete ignorance of the father whom they said they served. Oh, they were in the house, they were around, they were the religious ones, they were the dutiful ones, they were the moral ones. But they didn't know God, they didn't know the heart of God. They had no understanding of the joy of God. They had no interest in the recovery of lost sinners. They refused to honor God for saving grace which has always been the way God saved.
Doesn't that just make you want to cry? OK, well, maybe it's just me.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 16:1-13.