We know the story. Even those who have little or no Christian background know the story of the Prodigal Son. We know about the younger son leaving and going to the far country. We know about the desire to eat the slop they were feeding the pigs. We know about the return home, the rehearsed confession, the anticipated humiliation, and giving up of the position his birth gave him. We know about the father sitting on the porch and seeing the son while he was still a long way off. We know about the fatted calf and the party and the joy. That which was dead is now alive; that which was lost is now found.
It is one of the most popular stories in the Bible. It is likely one of the most popular stories in all of literature.
And it is an important story. No matter how far you have strayed; no matter how egregious your behavior; no matter how hateful your words and actions have been, you can always come home. We need to remember this. We need to proclaim this. We need people to remind us how they have come home and how they have overcome.
But it just feels like something is missing…
There are many opportunities to hear powerful testimonies of people who have lost everything and found it again. People who were born into horrible circumstances only to overcome. People who have undergone miraculous transformations.
And those stories are important. We need to hear them. There are people who are hurting, broken, and lonely. In the midst of despair, it is valuable to hear that you are not alone.
I have been given the opportunity to share my testimony in several settings. It is an honor to be able to do so. I am grateful that I can share where I have been and where my journey currently has me and where it is taking me.
I am also grateful for those other stories I get to hear when others share. It is a gift of grace to be present when someone is willing to open up and be vulnerable and provide us a glimpse into their lives.
But what about those people whose stories are, for lack of a better term, boring? What about those people who never had a journey “to the far country?”
Sometimes, I wonder if we celebrate the story of the modern day prodigals (which is good) so much that we discredit the story of the modern day older brother (which is not so good).
I have read and heard and preached on and listened to sermons about the Parable of the Prodigal Son millions of times. (Or some number close to that.)
So I never expected to hear something different in the story when I read it out loud last week. A small phrase that I never caught before. A few simple words that changed the meaning in a profound way.
I never realized before that after the party started—you know, the party with the fatted calf for the younger brother who came back home—the father went out to the older brother.
This may not seem like much, but it hit me as I read it this time: the younger son was not the only one the father noticed. The younger son was not the only one the father was waiting for. The younger son was not the only one the father ran out to in order to extend grace and mercy. The younger son was not the only one the father wanted to celebrate.
The father went to the older brother. The brother who had stayed at home. The boring brother.
Leaving home, squandering our money in alcohol and sex, landing flat on our backs at rock bottom, and only then coming to our senses is not a prerequisite to be loved by God.
It is also not a prerequisite to having a great story, a great confession.
The older brother stayed. When the father must have felt abandoned, the older brother was there. When the work load increased, the older brother increased his effort. When the father faced the shame that would have come with a child abandoning the family, the older brother worked to restore the family honor.
The older brother is not a bad person. He is not the antagonist (though he is sometimes seen as such). The older brother devoted his life to serving and honoring his father.
And because he was never in need of radical grace, he did not know what to do when he saw his father extend it. And when he struggled with the acceptance of his younger brother, the father then extended radical grace to the older brother.
No matter how boring you may think your story is, you are still the recipient of the amazing gift of grace from God.
And your story is still important. We need to know that there is redemption for those of us who have struggled with addiction, loss, imprisonment, and oppression. But we also need to know there is redemption for those who have never wandered away.
You may think your story is boring. But it is not. Your story is valuable. Your story needs to be heard.
Your story will be a blessing. So share it.
*Picture is of the painting The Prodigal Son Returns by Soichi Watanabe