And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 4.19
Luke 15 is commonly referred to as the “lost” chapter. It contains three wonderful stories that Christ tells in quick succession. A shepherd with 100 sheep loses one. He leaves the 99 behind to seek the lost lamb. He finds it and throws a party. A woman loses a precious coin. She tears her house apart to look for it. When she recovers it, she throws a party. By the third story, Jesus seems to sense He’s made the basic point. So He adds a few interesting nuances to the tale. And by the time He finishes, “lost” takes on an entirely different meaning.
The younger of two sons decides he can’t wait for his father to die and pass on his estate. He asks for an early inheritance, which the father grants. He gathers up all he has and relocates far from his family—“in a distant land,” Jesus says, where he can make a name for himself as a young man of means. Apparently, he gains popularity rapidly, because he burns through his money in little time. This only surprises him, however. A person with any life experience at all knows that a young man with lots of cash and time on his hands will most likely lose the money and be stuck with useless time. Predictably, once the money’s gone, the crowd disappears. The Big Money Kid is stranded in a strange land trying to scrape together a living—which is bad enough—when things get worse: a famine hits the region. No one he entertained so lavishly takes him in. The kid survives by working in a pigpen and eating whatever the livestock leaves behind. In Luke 15.16, Jesus says, “No one gave him anything.”
“What Am I Thinking?”
The kid’s story turns on this moment of self-degradation. After gnawing on one nasty cornhusk too many, it’s as if he startles himself awake. Jesus tells us “he came to his senses.” I see him looking around at his situation to ask, “What am I thinking?” He remembers that his dad’s servants eat and live better than this—and he’s an heir, entitled to the best his father’s house offers. After running away from responsibility, the former Big Money Kid becomes a man on the run again. But this time, he runs home. There’s a lot of ground to cover before he gets there. A lot of what he experienced in the “distant land, a lot of people he met, customs he acquired, language he learned, and so on, will no longer benefit him once he’s back home. A lot of dreams he had no longer matter.
Crossing the border en route to his father’s house, he’s forced to leave a lot of things behind. Yet he also rediscovers many things he lost without realizing it—dignity, for example, and its counterpart, humility. Foolish ambition had sold him cheap imitations of arrogance and debasement, both of which brought him no good. Once the kid comes home and reconciles with his father, Jesus returns to the motif in the early stories. The dad throws a party. He says, “My son was lost and now he’s found!” Yet, from the son’s perspective, much more has been lost and recovered than a home. Much that he foolishly gave away has come back to him.
All We Need
The Lost Son and Lent go hand in hand in an odd sort of way. Lent follows Jesus into the wilderness, yet on another level it follows the Lost Son into the distant land. It brings us to consider how far we’ve strayed from our Father’s bounty and goodness, how much we’ve squandered on ambitions and arrogance, and how easily we’ve settled for cheap imitations of happiness, love, and fulfillment instead of the real things. The Lost Son’s story reminds us that we often sacrifice what matters most in life to strive for what matters least. The story of the Lost Son encourages us to come to our senses. Lent tells us to sacrifice to restore our souls, to reconcile with our Father, and prepare ourselves for new life. They’re two sides of one coin. Paul says God will supply all we need according to His glorious riches through Christ. Everything life could ever promise is in our Father’s house. As we trudge the wilderness together, let’s remember we’re headed that way. Let’s encourage one another to drop thoughts, habits, and attitudes that have no place in our true home. And let’s know that God will provide all we need once we return.
Coming home often brings us back through wilderness we crossed to try living in a "distant land."
(Tomorrow: Deadly Lies)