All That I Have Is Yours
All That I Have is Yours by Rev. L. John Gable
June 18, 2016
Jesus was the master story teller and His primary mode of telling was the use of parables and His most famous or familiar parable is the one we read this morning from Luke15. I could argue that this short parable is one of the truly great short stories in all of literature. No matter how often I have preached on it (many), or studied it (more still), discussed or considered it (even more still) I discover that there are always still more angles and insights to consider.
This parable is most commonly referred to as being the parable of the prodigal son; but is that really what the story is about, a son who wanders off and returns home again? Yes, but, Jesus introduces the parable by saying, “There was a man who had two sons.” So, really it is a story about a man, and while it is not necessarily intended to be an instruction manual about parenting skills, it is a story about his relationship with his two sons, the younger, the wanderer, and the elder, the respectable one who stayed home, or was he and did he?
Let’s quickly review the story starting with Jesus’ purpose for telling this particular parable in the first place. He was talking with a group of scribes and Pharisees, uptight religious folks, who were grumbling and complaining because Jesus was “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” Whatever lessons we may take from this teaching let’s remember that this is “the problem” Jesus was addressing. He was being criticized for being too nice to some people the religious folks didn’t think He should be nice to.
Let me add one other note before we get in to the story. This is the third parable in a trilogy of stories Jesus tells. The first is about a shepherd who looks for a lost sheep – one out of 100; the second is about a woman who searches for a lost coin – one out of 10; and when they find what they were looking for each of those stories conclude with this phrase, “There is joy among the angels in heaven over one sinner who repents” or something to that effect. But Jesus doesn’t end the parable we’ve just read in that way. He could have, but He didn’t, why? Because like in any good story, Jesus invites us to participate in it and decide for ourselves what we would do. This then is the question the parable leaves each of us with: “In the end, there is going to be a party thrown in celebration for the lost who have been found and each of us will be invited, so the question is, which of us will be willing to attend?”
So, a man has two sons and the younger says, “Dad, give me my share of my inheritance, I want to leave” which is short-hand for “I want mine now because I wish you were dead!” That’s the first offense this father has to suffer. To everyone’s surprise, rather than throwing the ungrateful son out on his ear, the father grants his request and the kid heads out to the far country – we don’t really know where that is, but then again, yes we do – where he blows his entire inheritance is dissolute living – again we don’t really know what that means, but then again we do. Finding himself penniless and desperate, feeding pigs – a tough thing for a young Jewish boy to do – he “comes to himself”, he comes to his senses and plots a scheme to go back home pleading to his father to accept him, not as a son, but as a servant, as a hired hand, a slave.
As he near home his father sees him coming, as do all the neighbors, so they all come out to see what he’s going to do to this kid who has offended and humiliated him so deeply by wishing he was dead, then blowing all of his inheritance. “This is going to be good!” they think, but little did they know. Rather than rebuffing his son and reading him the riot act for his irresponsibility, the father instead runs to his son – no self-respecting man in first century Palestine would never run – he hugs him, kisses him on the neck, calls for the best robe to be put on him, a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and to top things off, for the fatted calf to be killed! We are going to have a party! “My son who I thought was dead is alive; he was lost but now he is found!”
This parable has already taken a shocking turn, but remember, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”, right? In his actions the father has demonstrated all of the characteristics of our Heavenly Father, the One the religious folks say they believe in, the One who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” So, everyone is happy and every one comes to join in the party, end of story, right? No, Jesus continues.
The music is playing and the party is in full swing when the elder brother returns home from a long day working in the fields. “What’s going on?” he asks, and “Why didn’t anyone invite me?” Perhaps his anger is justified, but then he does something that is considered just as offensive to his father as when his younger brother asked for his portion of the inheritance, he refuses to go in to the party, which necessitates his father having to come out to him, a second or perhaps a third deep humiliation. Again the guests would have gathered close to hear the lecture the father was about to give to his son for his disrespect and rudeness, but instead Jesus introduces yet another twist in the story.
Before the father has the chance to say a word, the elder son launches in to a diatribe against the unfairness of the father’s love and acceptance, saying, “You are being too merciful, too gracious, too slow to anger, too abundant in your love.” And then he outs himself with his true feelings. Not only does he resent the welcome his father has given to his irresponsible little brother, he confesses that he has never really felt that kind of love himself. “All these years I have worked like a slave for you and never once did you offer me even a kid to make merry with my friends. But now when this son of yours (not, “my brother” but “this son of yours”) returns home, you kill the fatted calf and throw a party for him.”
This young man may never have left home, but he too had wandered into “the far country” with regards to his relationship with his father. The younger son, the so called prodigal, came home hoping to become a servant, a slave, but his father would have none of that. He had servants, he wanted his son back. And now this older boy blurts out that he feels like a slave, not a son at all. Suddenly the father realizes that he has lost him, too.
After what must have seemed like an incredibly long pause, the father speaks these heart rending words, “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours.” “My child, you are always with me and all this is mine is yours.” New Testament scholar Dale Bruner says that these are his favorite words in all of Scripture. Notice the father didn’t try to explain himself or rationalize why he was doing what he was doing. He didn’t change his response or his feelings about either of his sons, despite their very different behaviors. He simply did the only thing he knew to do, what he had been trying to do all along, he expressed his love for his first born, just as he had for his second.
Friends, just as these tender words are spoken by this father to this son, so God, our Heavenly Father speaks these very same words of love to each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or where we’ve been. We have the high privilege of being called “children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:16-17). The clear, consistent and unambiguous message God gives to us is this, “You are loved. You have been promised a rich inheritance. You are always with Me and all that is mine is yours.”
That is the Gospel truth, but that isn’t always how we feel, is it? That hasn’t always been our experience, has it? Too often we feel like the elder brother, having to work and struggle to earn God’s love and approval, while others seem to get it for free. Despite our efforts we still feel ourselves to be undeserving and unworthy, distant and cut off from His love. Why is that?
If Jesus is telling us the truth, and I believe He is, then the issue here is ours, not God’s. God has expressed His love for us, clearly and consistently, most clearly and most conclusively in the life, death and resurrection of His Son. So, like the father in the story, God has not changed in His love for us, nor will He ever change, which means, since He has not moved, it must be that we have; either by wandering in to the far country of disobedience, or by hardening our hearts to His love by thinking that we have to do something to earn it. God has not withdrawn any of His love or blessings, rather it is we who have turned our backs or closed our hearts to the inheritance He has promised us. We have simply refused or neglected to hear and believe God when He says, “You are always with me and all that is mine is yours.”
Maybe part of the fault lies in that we have never really understood what is included in God’s love for us. The story is told of the young man who wanted to get to the west coast, so he saved his money and bought a train ticket. Having spent all of his money on the ticket he didn’t have enough left over for food for the week long journey, so he packed some meager supplies to tide him over. Every day as he nibbled on his crackers and water he watched the other travelers walk down to the dining car to enjoy wonderful meals. On the last day of the trip his food supply had run out so he decided to spend the little he had on a meal in the dining car. As he walked in and sat down at a table beautifully laid out with a white table cloth, silverware and china dishes the headwaiter approached him and asked him where he had been? The young man began to explain his situation saying that he couldn’t afford the meals, when the waiter interrupted him and said, “But your meals were included with your fare.” This young man had been denying himself for no good reason, and perhaps we are doing the same in our spiritual lives. Perhaps like him, or like the elder brother, we are unaware of the blessings God desires to give to us. Perhaps we have been blaming Him, or someone else, or our circumstances when in reality it is we, ourselves who have turned our backs or closed our hearts to God’s blessings and the kind of close and intimate and loving relationship He desires to have with us.
So, what is the remedy to our dilemma? It is rather simple really. All we need do is turn back to the God who loves us (the Biblical word for that is repent, which doesn’t really have the negative connotation some people give to it. It simply means to turn around.) All we need do is turn around and come back home to the Father who loves us, the One who runs to greet us whether we’ve been in the far country squandering our inheritance or out working the fields denying it. And in our returning, we don’t come home as servants or slaves, but as children, children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Friends, this is my prayer for you, that in your turning or your re-turning, you will hear and believe these precious words of love and acceptance, spoken by our Heavenly Father to each and every one of us, “You are My child. You are always with Me, and all that is Mine is yours.”
That is the message I hope you hear for yourself in this familiar parable, but there is another message which I also hope you will hear. Remember who Jesus is talking to, and why He needed to tell this particular story. He was talking to some scribes and Pharisees, religious folks who didn’t think they needed to do any of this turning or re-turning, who were complaining that Jesus was being too welcoming to some folks they didn’t think deserved to be welcomed. When we start thinking that way we suddenly find ourselves, like the elder brother, standing on the outside of the party looking in.
That’s how this story ends and we don’t know whether he ever goes in or not. The decision he has to make is the same decision each of us has to make. Our Heavenly Father has clearly and unambiguously expressed His love for us, and I know we like that; but now we have to decide whether we can accept the fact that God extends that same love to “them” as well, whoever “they” might be. And if He has, then we must also.
There are a lot of angles in this short story, all worth exploring, but in doing so please don’t miss this one, central and enduring truth. God loves us, the wanderers and the stay at homers, the rebellious and the self-righteous, the honorable sinners and the hypocritical saints. To each and every one of us He says, “You are my child. You have always been with Me and all that I have is yours.”
There is a party going on and you have been invited. Please don’t let anything keep you from joining in.