“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Every comedy featuring kids facing off against some adult villain has a moment when the adult gets it somehow. Perhaps the most famous is the original Home Alone. The Sticky Bandits, Harry and Marv, hilariously work through Kevin’s house of horrors getting hit in the head with irons, paint cans, stepping on upended nails, glass ornaments, getting glued and feathered, having their heads and hands burnt, and finally getting whacked with a snow shovel before they are finally arrested. That’s called justice, and if we pursue a path of evil-hearted foolishness like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal son, we will eventually experience that moment ourselves.
Last time we started walking through this classic story by looking at the younger son’s announcement that he wanted his portion of his father’s estate—which was equivalent to announcing he wanted his father dead—so he could go off on his own. In a move that was jarringly unexpected for Jesus’ original audience, the father gave him what he asked for and sent him on his way. It was a good reminder that God’s love doesn’t stop just because we are intent on pursuing a path of evil-hearted foolishness.
There’s a little catch here, though. The father in the story represents God. God never gives us something evil we’ve asked for because He feels somehow backed into a corner and doesn’t have another choice. We don’t ever win the argument against Him and He gives in because our point is so strong. If God gives in for something like this, it’s for a reason. At least part of the reason may be that He knows the best way to convince us we shouldn’t want something we think we want is to let us experience how bad it’ll be to have it.
As for the younger son, he walks smugly off into the setting sun and goes his way. He’s got more money than he’s ever seen before in his life and no self-restraint (which was obvious from his asking the question in the first place). He goes off to the big city and blows it all on every pleasure he can find. Wine, women, and wild parties fill his nights and sleeping it all off his days. You know as well as I do, though, that pattern isn’t sustainable for very long. Eventually the money ran out and the economy turned south and he was suddenly a poor kid in a big city that didn’t care about poor kids whose poverty was their own fault.
Then, when he was sitting at the bottom of the hole he’d dug for himself, it turned out to be a sinkhole and he fell in even deeper. The only work he could find—keep in mind that this story was being told to a Jewish audience who assumed the Jewishness of the boy—was feeding pigs for a wage that wasn’t quite enough for him to be able to eat every day.
This was his justice moment. This wasn’t simply some kind of a karmic moment, though, this was God-delivered justice. This was God showing him how he had treated all of the most important people in his life. He had treated them like they were scum and now he found himself living as scum. Those servants he so arrogantly complained seemed to be treated as well as he was as the son of the owner now looked like they were living pretty high on the hog. He’d finally hit rock bottom. He was broke. He was starving. And he was feeding pigs, wishing he could eat some of what they ate he was so hungry.
Have you ever experienced this moment? It’s not pretty. But, when we run from God with evil-hearted foolishness, at some point we are going to come up against this very God-delivered justice. The question is not if, but when.
But, lest you think otherwise, experiencing this God-delivered justice is never a matter of His dumping on us because His feelings were hurt. Our God is not vindictive. He doesn’t carry a grudge. He’s never out to get us back. He’s always aiming to bring us back. And sometimes—often even—the only way to get us to come back is to let our experience finally get so hard that we don’t have anywhere else to go.
The question for us, then, becomes: Where will we turn when life gets incredibly hard because of the choices we’ve made. I’m talking very specifically about that here. We’ve talked other times about what to do when life gets hard and it’s not primarily the result of our bad choices. This particular hard is the direct result of sinful choices. This is a hard that is delivered to us by God. It is God-delivered justice. But the thing about God’s justice is that it is always redemptive in its intent. He’s not trying to pay us back, He’s trying to bring us back. Just ask Jonah. Or this younger son.
If we run apart from reality long enough, we will eventually crash painfully into it. How we respond and how the younger son responded we will talk about next time.