Day 30

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

Yesterday I wrote:  The point of the story is not “how to avoid being a prodigal son” or “what to do if you’re a prodigal son”, it’s more like this:  What a relief it is to have such a giving, forgiving, merciful, and caring God.  

 

I’m not saying our mistakes are totally inconsequential.  I’m not saying that how we live doesn’t matter.  What I’m talking about is how we think of and deal with our pasts.  Likely all of us have parts (or even wholes) of our pasts that we regret and wish we could change.  Perhaps we think that they make us unacceptable or unworthy.  Perhaps we think we’re unforgivable.  

 

That’s the kind of thing this story addresses.  The path behind us is truly behind us.  There’s nothing we can do to change it.  However, in front of us is a loving, merciful, forgiving God.  

 

The question is, where do we go from here?  


Day 29

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

What’s the son’s problem?  

 

  • The lack of food in the story as a result of the famine.  
  • The son’s lack of community when he became distanced from his family.
  • His character defects.  

 

The truth of the matter is some combination of all three of these things.  If we combine these together, we may get a more accurate view of the kind of God the story is meant to describe.  We have a God who values right relationships, who provides for our needs, who gives freely, who forgives freely, and who shows mercy freely.  The point of the story is not “how to avoid being a prodigal son” or “what to do if you’re a prodigal son.”   It’s more like this:  What a relief it is to have such a giving, forgiving, merciful, and caring God.  

 


Day 28

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

Yesterday, we unpacked the son’s “sin”.  What other factors are there in the story?  We’re so obsessed, in our culture, with our individual guilt, wrongdoing, and punishment, that the first thing we see when we read this story is what the son did wrong.  A few days ago, we wrote that other cultures saw different things when they were exposed to this passage.  

  • A group of Russians who recently survived a famine saw the lack of food in the story as the younger son’s main problem.  
  • A group of Tanzanians who live with a much more communal focus saw the son’s lack of community as his main problem.  

What can we learn from these other cultures?  Perhaps we over-emphasize individual sin, for one thing.  Perhaps we tend to read too much between the lines.  Afterall, the passage doesn’t tell us exactly what the sin is, though we tried to do some educated guessing yesterday.  

 

It’s interesting how our culture shapes how we read.  We’re obsessed with the sin and wrongdoing, and the son’s responsibility and, in the process, we end up with a certain view of God.  The kind of God we create with that view only cares about our sin, rather than our well-being.  That’s a big deal!  

 

When we step back and see this passage through other people’s eyes, we see different perspectives on God.  Perhaps the Russians see a God who provides for our physical/material needs in the form of food and shelter.  Perhaps the Africans see a God who provides for our needs through family and/or community.  Those are very different (and perhaps more helpful) perspectives than what we’ve got!  

 

Perspective influences everything.  So, if you’re struggling with the “goodness” of the God you believe in, perhaps part of the problem is all the baggage we bring with us as we read.  


Day 27

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

If you’ve missed a few days of devo’s, scan back through the last couple of days before reading this one.  It’ll save me some space in writing up a recap.  

 

Yesterday we asked the question, “What sin is the son confessing?”  

 

Now, in even asking this question, we’re showing that we’re bringing a perspective with us to the passage.  Remember the Bible doesn’t have titles to parables in it originally, we’ve added those and different Bibles have different titles.  Imagine if this story was called, “The Merciful Father,” rather than, “The Prodigal Son.”  What would that change in how we read it?  

 

Perhaps the son is confessing to the disrespect he showed his father by asking for an inheritance.  In their culture, this would lead to the younger son to being completely rejected by the family.  And, it should be noted, this would be seen as the appropriate response.  It would not be considered abuse or improper or bad parenting.  In fact, it would be seen as good parenting and bad behavior on the child’s part.  This is very different than how we see things, so take note. Extravagant living compounds the problem as this would be considered even more irregular than asking for the inheritance.  

 

So, his “sin”, if we want to call it that, was his act of damaging relationship.  And, perhaps, also the wastefulness of his extravagant living.  It wasn’t some grand deed of wickedness.  The passage doesn’t tell us what character defects the son either had or didn’t have.  It just tells us that he did a disrespectful thing that leads to broken relationship.  Interesting.
Let’s remember, though, that his responsibility is only one piece of the story.  


Day 26

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

Over the past few days, we’ve been asking the question:  What was the younger son’s problem?  A preacher once asked this question in three countries with the following responses:  

 

  • In America, the crowd believed the younger son was wicked.
  • In Africa, the crowd believed the younger son didn’t have enough support.
  • In Russia, the crowd believed the younger son was a victim of the famine in the land.  

 

Who was right?  

 

Each group was right in their way.  The passage itself might support each of those answers depending on our perspective.  Each group’s response, though, was entirely conditioned by their culture and their experience.  In America, we’re laser-focused on individual guilt, wrongdoing, and punishment.  In Africa, they live far more collectively and believe in the necessity of a community’s support.  In Russia, they underwent a hugely destructive famine at the time the preacher was visiting.  This goes to show that, much of the time, we tend to see the things we go looking for.  In other words, we bring stuff with us into our reading that colors or shapes our interpretation.  This doesn’t mean our interpretation is wrong necessarily, but it means we’ll have to do some work to take a step back and question how much we want the stuff we bring with us to influence what we get out of what we’re reading.  

 

So, today, read the passage again.  Take a step back from yourself and your experience.  Try to put yourself in the younger son’s shoes.  Ask yourself, what character defects does the passage say the son has?  Then ask yourself, what really is the son’s problem?  What “sin”, exactly, is he confessing?


Day 25

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

One of the speakers we had at the recovery conference read this passage and then asked the audience, “What was the younger son’s problem?”  

 

We shared a variety of responses:

  • Pride
  • Ego
  • Jealousy
  • Selfishness
  • Impatience
  • Rude
  • Lazy
  • Disrespectful
  • Extravagant

 

Essentially, we shared responses that showed that we believe that the younger son has a lengthy list of character defects.  Our speaker then went on to share with us how a friend of his once preached on this passage in 3 different countries.  In each country he asked the crowd the same question (what is the younger son’s problem?).  In America, the crowd always said some version of “wickedness” (in other words, a character defect).  In Africa, a far less individualistic culture, they said the son’s problem was that he had no one to help him.  This is because they’re so focused on community to meet their needs.  In Russia, they said the son’s problem was that there was a famine in the land.  This is because they had recently experienced a very long famine in their area.  

 

Interesting.

 

Who was right?  


Day 24

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:11-24, CEB

 

Over the next few days, we’re going to do an exercise that I got to participate in while we were at the recovery conference in California.  If you were at NSC a few weeks back, you probably already saw and participated in this exercise.  It’s a reading exercise, in a way, but primarily it’s an exercise that tests our “lens” or our “perspective” in how we view and understand our world.  For today, we’ll start slow.  Read the above passage a couple of times and ask yourself:  What was the younger son’s problem?  
Post your answers to this question in the comment section below.


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