Over the past two and a half years, as I’ve been working on the Prodigal Project, I’ve gained such admiration for Jesus as a storyteller. In less than 500 words (in the NIV translation), Jesus dealt a one-two punch that drove home the truths of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation for the “tax collectors and sinners” in his audience. And in the same stroke, Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the teachers of the law: “If God can forgive, why can’t you?”
Brett Younger drove the point home to me in a commentary he wrote a few years ago (Formations Commentary, May-August 2010, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.).
He was writing about the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, but the point applies to the prodigal story, too. Younger asks, “Could it be that, according to Jesus, God seeks evil people who cause horrible tragedies and offers them grace? Could there be more joy in heaven over one terrorist repenting than over ninety-nine righteous people like us? That is hard to take.”
Forgiveness for terrorists?! Hard to take indeed.
Younger portrays Israel’s patriarch as a pretty despicable guy. He cheated his brother out of his inheritance, tricked his father out of a blessing, and never expressed a moment’s regret for any of it. Younger says, “In a world of indefensible wickedness, we should never excuse evil, but we should try to see more like God does, because the hard truth is that God loves people like Jacob.”
Not only does God love Jacob. He built a mighty nation from him. Jacob: one of the “big three” of the Hebrew narrative – Abraham, Issac and Jacob!
And then Younger’s point that hit me between the eyes: “Obviously, the thief has to stop stealing, the terrorist has to lay aside his or her bombs… and the sinners must repent. Yet the good news does not begin with our repentance. God’s love is the gospel.” (emphasis mine)
The prodigal’s father ran out to meet him. He interrupted his younger son in mid-confession to dress him in robe, ring & sandals, and to call for a party.
I’m afraid I’m more like the older son. I want to hear a full confession before I throw a party. And I want to sit at the head table, where my faithfulness and long years of service will be celebrated with equal gusto as the sinner’s repentance.
If I understand the parable correctly, there’s a second chance for me, too.
The father went out to bring his older son into the party. “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Thanks be to God.