Far is Near and Near is Far
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
Many of us are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. The two sons in the family look very different on the surface. One runs off to live a wasteful life while the other stays back to serve the father. Are they really different? Is the physical proximity of both sons to their father a reflection of their true relationship with the father? If we dig a little deeper, we would realize that both sons see their father as a means to an end. They may have never really loved him. The elder son is just as lost and distanced as the younger son though he never left.
It is easy to recognize how the younger son loved the father’s possession more than the father. In those times, to ask for the inheritance while the father was alive was to wish him dead. Such a request was a disgrace to the family and disrespectful to the father. Since the father had to sell part of his estate in order to give him his share, the younger son’s request essentially ripped the family apart relationally and economically. It destroyed the family’s integrity.
The elder brother revealed similar intention and passion in Luke 15:28. The elder brother was furious because the celebration for his younger brother was at the expense of his eventual inheritance. He wanted the share of the inheritance that was rightfully his but, the father decided to expend a portion of it for his younger son. The older son knew how elated his father was with the return of his brother. Yet he refused to be part of the feast that his father initiated. This was a deliberate act of disrespect in those days. It was his way of saying, “I won’t be part of this family nor respect your headship in it.” In a similar manner, the elder son ripped both the family’s integrity and the father’s heart apart like how the younger son did when he left the family.
The elder brother had been close to the father physically. He obeyed all the rules, did all the right things and served him. Unfortunately, his heart was never near to the father though he physically was. His real passion was with the father’s possessions. He was with the father only because he loved the things that the father could give. While the younger son took the father’s wealth by breaking the rules and running away, the elder son wanted the father’s wealth by being good and maintaining the right to possess them.
The father in this parable represents God Himself, and the meal is the feast of salvation. In the end, the previously immoral younger son went in and was saved, but the seemingly good older son refused to go in and remained lost. With an interesting twist, the younger son who was once far from the father came forever near. But the elder son who had always been near to the father became forever far.
The elder brother is like a Christian who does good so that God will answer his prayer, give him a good life and bring him to heaven. God is merely a Rewarder and a Helper. God is not his Savior and Lord. God is his means to an end.
On the contrary, the younger son having lost everything realized that his father’s possessions alone bring him no joy. He now obeys because he wants to be with his father. He now realizes the sweetness of the fellowship with his father. He is like a Christian who obeys God because he wants to be with God, because he wants to please God and draw close to Him.
Friends, being a Christian who attends church regularly and serves God faithfully does not necessarily mean that we are close to God’s heart. Proximity does not necessarily equate to intimacy. The parable reminds us that physical proximity may give us a false sense of intimacy with God. We may seem close to Him in person with our deeds but our hearts may be far from Him like the older son in the parable. It is not what we do that matters most but how we do it. The elder son has always been with the father but his passion has always been with what the father has and not the father. The younger son though was lost temporarily in his own pursuit of pleasure, found himself forever accepted and loved because of his father’s passion for him. As we walk this journey of faith, let us regularly check our hearts and ensure that our obedience and serving come solely from our love for God and never because of what He can give.
Let us pray.
“Dear Jesus, please forgive me for those times when I have been caught up with doing things for You and have forgotten what it means to be with You as Your child. I recommit and rededicate my life to love You for who You are in my life and not because of what You can give to me. My obedience and serving mean nothing to You if they are offered with a wrong heart and spirit. Thank You for reminding me and teaching me how to love You. Strengthen my inner man through your Holy Spirit to serve you out of love and thanksgiving. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”