When I was 18, my dad decided to sell the house and move somewhere smaller. My brother had left the country, my older sister had moved out, and my parents felt it was time to downsize. The proceeds from the sale of the house were divided – a flat for my parents, a flat for my sister, and a small flat for me because I threw a tantrum. I remember my dad saying that he was doing it this way so that we wouldn’t be waiting around for him to die and get our inheritance.
So, unlike the guy known as “the prodigal son” from the Bible, I got that flat without going to my father and saying: give me my inheritance now. But, very much like that guy in the parable, I squandered what I’d got, and ended up with nothing.
My dad had died by then, so there was no question of me going back and pleading with him – but knowing what my dad was like, I can totally imagine his response: you made your bed, he’d have said. No, scratch that. For “said” read “shouted”. He would have been very angry – angry that after all his hard work over the years, after my mother’s efforts to scrimp and save and make ends meet, and after he’d bought me a flat – while most 18-year-olds wouldn’t dream of owning their home – after all that I managed to get into such heavy debts that I ended up losing what he’d given me!
He’d have been right to be angry. I’d have got what I deserved.
But he was gone by then, so I didn’t have that confrontation.
Instead of that, I had a huge surprise: I discovered a much better father, one who gives me what I don’t deserve.
That’s another thing that I have in common with that guy in the parable – we both squandered our inheritance, we both experienced the desperation of hitting rock bottom, and we were both surprised by grace.
This is where I need to leave the metaphor – my financial ruin back then is not the main problem God helped me with, it’s just a metaphor for the dire straits we’re all in because of that basic part of humanness: sin. God has every right to be angry with us, but yay, God isn’t like my dad was! He does get angry when we sin, but if, like the guy in the parable, we come to our senses and turn to him, he shows us love and grace!
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(I John 1:8-9)
There’s another guy in that story, who gets less attention, so let’s talk about him for a moment. Do you know the story? The prodigal son had a brother. An older brother, who thought he was better. Just like the people Jesus told this story to – those who criticised him for eating with sinners, as though they themselves weren’t.
The younger son, the one who had gone off and squandered the inheritance? The one who had very obviously done wrong? He came to his senses, and went back to his father to plead with him. And he got showered with grace.
The older son didn’t even realise he needed grace.
Don’t be like that older son. Recognise your need for God’s grace – it’s available to anyone who is willing to acknowledge their need, acknowledge that you’re a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. Jesus died to atone for our sins – all of us! But we can’t be saved if we refuse to accept that we’re drowning.