Parenting with the Parables – The Lost Son

Remember the context of Jesus’ first coming?  His contemporaries viewed the coming kingdom as a national deliverance from foreign oppression and personal deliverance for the righteous.  Jesus turned that idea on its head and proclaimed deliverance for the needy; the sick, the oppressed, the sinner.  The Jewish leaders expected judgment for the sinners, not redemption.  When Jesus ate with those considered “sinners,” it meant acceptance and recognition in their culture.  This coupled with His announcement that the kingdom had come to sinners led to many a protest from the religious leaders.

One of these protests is found in Luke chapter 15, “Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’  And He told them this parable, saying,…” (Lk 15:1-3).  Jesus then goes on to tell three parables to illustrate that the very thing He was being accused of is exactly why Jesus came; to rescue the lost.

The last in this series of parables is the story of the lost son, sometimes referred to as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32).  To summarize the story, a wealthy landowner had two sons.  The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own.  The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country.  After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death.  When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this.  I will go to my father.  I will throw myself on his mercy.  I will offer to become a servant and work off the money I wasted.”  So the son returned home.

Meanwhile back at the family farm, Jesus paints a picture of a lovesick father waiting and yearning for his lost son.  When the son returns, the father sees him from afar, is overwhelmed with compassion, runs to embrace him, kisses him, and announces a feast in his honor.  He will have nothing to do with his son’s plan to pay off the debt, but instead proclaims to all who will hear, “Rejoice with me.  My son who was as good as dead has come back to life.  My son who was lost has been found.” (Lk 15:23-24).

Let’s stop the narrative right here and say, “Wait just a minute.”  Are we to believe that after squandering his father’s money and inflicting the emotional pain of leaving without a trace, that all is forgiven?  What about working off the debt?  What about some probationary period to make sure the son’s change of heart is genuine?  And is Jesus’ parable really suggesting that the attitude of this father – celebrating his son’s return with forgiveness and no thought of repayment – is a picture of how God, the Father, accepts us?

That, my friends, is the absolute unadulterated beauty of the Christian message!  When we change our minds about Jesus Christ and embrace His message, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, giving to charity, or performing any acts of penance.  To our calculating and cynical minds this is too good to be true.  That is the uniqueness of the Christian message.  And this free gift is being offered to you right now.

When you strip away the media caricature of Christianity, when you strip away the uninformed biases we have heard all of our lives about Christianity, at the heart of the Christian message is the story of a lovesick Father rejoicing in and accepting without reservation the person who embraces His message of good news.  And the good news is this:  Jesus Christ died for your sin problem and offers to set you free from its penalty and its power.

Yes, it is almost too good to be true, but we believe by faith that this “beautiful unfairness of grace” is indeed completely true.  And the lesson for our children is two-fold.  It is to rejoice and be grateful in the grace that was given to them free of charge.  It is to approach God as their Abba Father without fear; completely loved, forgiven, and accepted.  And it is a call to extend that grace to others.  When our families are saturated with this grace; fear, worry, and disharmony will diminish, and joy, cooperation, and love will increase.

Parenting with the Parables – The Unmerciful Servant

In the gospels, Jesus referred to His ministry as “new wine” (Mk 2:22); not just an add-on to the old covenant, but something totally brand new.  In fact, I would say it is beyond brand new to the point of being completely revolutionary.  And one of its revolutions was the overturning of the Old Testament consequence model in favor of God’s new covenant model of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Remember, the disciples would have been steeped in the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye model prior to meeting Jesus.  So Peter was actually being quite generous in Matthew 18:21 when he asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother up to seven times.  But Jesus trumped Peter’s attempt at generosity by teaching that our forgiveness should be unlimited and illustrates this point with a story.

As with most parables, the story begins with “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a …” (Mt 18:23).  Jesus then tells the story of the unmerciful servant who after being forgiven an insurmountable debt by the king, goes out and demands payment of a tiny debt by a fellow servant to the point of putting the second fellow into debtor’s prison.  Of course, when the king hears of this he is incensed and the first servant is rightly punished.

Jesus’ point?  We should always forgive our brother just like the king – our heavenly Father – has forgiven us.  We can also learn from the parable that the offense against us is small potatoes compared to the great moral trespass we have committed toward God and of which we have been completely forgiven.

In parenting with the parables, we used this story to demonstrate to our children the value of forgiveness.  We taught our kids how to ask, extend, and receive forgiveness.  We taught them how forgiveness is a key part of love and acceptance and how these qualities all flow together.  Forgiveness is a healing antidote to sibling rivalry.  Like the attitude of generosity that we have previously written about here, it moves us away from being prisoners of a fairness and consequence model and opens our family up to the new world of love, acceptance, and forgiveness brought to us by Jesus.

It also prepares our children for the adult world.  We live in such a victim mentality culture these days.  Someone else is at fault for my dysfunction, my situation, my circumstances, my loss; and they must somehow be made to pay for my distress.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, not only flies in the face of this mentality, but models the attributes of Christ who not only forgave his literal killers, but us His spiritual killers as well.  Our sins sent Christ to the cross and in the most generous forgiveness possible, He has pronounced us “not guilty” when we accept His sacrifice in our place.

Love, acceptance, and forgiveness brings a generosity of life to our families that is a wonderful thing.  And it is a joy-filled experience to be part of.  May it be the experience in your family today.

Parenting with the Parables – The Good Samaritan

In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus is responding to a question from a lawyer, “who wishing to justify himself”, asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29).  Jesus answered the question with a parable.

A man was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road.  When a priest, travelling the same route, came upon the man, he crossed over to the other side and continued on his journey.  Next a Levite saw the injured man and also passed by on the other side.  Finally a Samaritan – despised by the religious elite who ignored the man – came upon the casualty and, moved with compassion, stopped to tend to his plight.  He bandaged the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.  Jesus ends the story with, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?” (Lk 10:36).  To which the lawyer rightly answered, “The one who showed mercy to him.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’ ” (Lk 10:37).

The lesson of service to others demonstrated by the Samaritan is straight to the point.  Compassion is the attitude that should define our response to those in need.  Compassion is the foundation for our generosity, our hospitality, our service.  While some of us may have a more natural bent toward mercy, compassion in service to others can be taught.  And it is best taught by example.  Watching you respond to people in need speaks volumes to our children.

One morning, several years ago, Rhonda was at the kitchen sink when she saw our new neighbor sitting on the curb crying.  Rhonda walked across the street and listened to her tale of woe.  Moved by compassion, Rhonda began to give her new friend a ride to her job (part of her despair was losing her license due to an arrest), invited her family to AWANA, connected them to a church, and made a permanent difference in the life of this family.  It started with a choice to cross the street instead of look away.

Sometimes the needs of those around us can be overwhelming.  We must balance our responsibility to our own families, work, and church body that God has given us to do.  How do we choose when to respond?

Our friend, pastor Dave Gibson, used to say, “God puts people in our path that we would have to go in the ditch to get around.  They are there for us to serve.”  Rhonda and I started to put this concept into practice and taught our kids to do the same.  We would ask, “Am I going to have to go into the ditch to get around this person and their need?”  If that is the case, maybe God has put them there for me to respond with compassion, hospitality, and generosity.

Who are you “going in the ditch” to get around?  And could they be in your path by God’s design?  Good questions to ponder as we seek to follow the example of the good Samaritan.