“This broad picture of God’s grace cannot be presumed upon… Grace, to be grace, must always be amazing grace.”
- Fred Craddock
All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 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. “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 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! I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 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. Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 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! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ Then his father said, ‘Son, 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. He was lost and is found.’”
- Luke 15.1-2, 11-32
Do you see the difference? I hope so, because it’s huge. On one hand, the younger brother approaches his daddy in humility, never dreaming that he can or will be forgiven. Thus, for him grace comes purely as a gift; not because he deserves it, not because he’s earned it, but because his daddy is awesome, and his grace is amazing! On the other hand, the older brother presumes that he deserves grace because he’s cool. He’s never run away, he’s never fallen into the gutter, he’s never even disobeyed his daddy.
Grace a gift? No way! And because of this attitude he finds himself standing outside and alone, without a seat at the feasting table. He’s much like the uppity Pharisees in the parable of the Great Dinner in Luke 14. They presume the host’s invitation to the table, and when they see the host inviting ner-do-wells and lowlifes to the great dinner, they are insulted and, again, find themselves outside and alone. According to the host, there will never be a seat at the table for them, because they have rejected his invitation.
But this parable – the Parable of the Two Brothers - goes one step further. Because he presumes daddy’s good graces, it would seem the older brother has rejected his amazing grace. Look closely, however, and you will see that he still stands before a choice. There is still time to repent his decision, enter the tent of feasting, and taste his daddy’s amazing grace. In short, his story can end just like the younger brother’s, despite his being so boring. He must learn, as Fred Cradock has said, that for grace to be grace, it must be amazing grace. Now that’s a happy ending!
We hope to see you on Sunday at 8:30 or 10:30 am for worship. There’s always a seat at the table waiting for you.