Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Man on the Run

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)


FranIAm said...

The prodigal son is one of my favorite parables... it tells the story of pretty much all of us at some point or another.

Thank you for this. Today in my prayer, before I got here, I asked to let go of what I think I need, particularly materially and to be open to what God gives me.

And then I find this post.

There are no coincidences.

Tim said...

Fran, bless you for this. I posted in a hurry early this AM--just to get something in place. Your comment gives me a sigh of relief! And now that I've had a chance to go back and "clean it up," your note gives me confidence not to make huge changes.

Yes, there are no coincidences!

Joy and peace always,

Annette said...

I too was led here today. I've been struggling with "letting go and letting God". Worrying about the things I should give to Him. It seems to me that's what the PS did...he wanted to get things without really knowing if he was supposed to have it. He didn't wait, and it was disastrous. This is a new skill I want to acquire. I've never had it. Thank you for this Tim!


Tim said...


It's in the knowing what is ours now and what will become ours eventually. I know that sounds vague, but it's real. When we grow impatient for God's great things too soon, we're sitting ducks to be seduced into leaving home.

Disastrous sometimes can be an understatement!

Blessings of joy and peace, and thankms for this!


kkryno said...

This one is timely for myself, as well. I've been missing home more and more, and of course the rest of the family. Annette and Fran and you with this post have hit the nail on the head. I think if I were to just follow my heart and not my head...well you get the picture.

Tim said...

Vikki, I do get the picture. I'm on the road now, granted among friends--some close enough to be "family"--but there's no place like home and nobody like family. Yet, if I don't spend time out here, there will be no home or family to speak of.

What to do, what to do?

I think the lost son's problems came because he FORGOT what he'd left behind to pursue what the Bible calls "wild living." I read his story and often think how different it would have gone had he brought the best of home to the "distant land," rather than waste it on pleasures he didn't understand.

When I'm distraught at being far from home, I put my heart into my work and try to bring home to life where I am. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, your heart will be there too..." I try to treasure what I'm doing now--cherish where I've been sent--to keep my heart in my work. But, still, it AIN'T home!

Be happy wherever you are, my sister. And only a few days left until the spring equinox!


James said...

I have always thought of this story in terms of the father. He sees the son when that sun is just a speck on the road in the distance. He's been waiting, waiting, waiting.

Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home.....

Thanks for a really great post.

Tim said...

James, once again you tap into the perfect hymn connection--"See at the portal, He's waiting and watching; watching for you and for me...."

It is a most beautiful image, the father standing at the door, patiently waiting for us to find our way home.

Thanks for adding yet another rich dimension to this great story!

Blessings always,