It's Party Time
Imagine with me that you're a prosperous dairy farmer nearing retirement. You were born in the Old Country, and came to America seeking opportunity. Over the years, you've built up a large herd of several hundred top Holstein cows.
You have two strong sons, both in their twenties. Early in their childhood they learned to milk the cows, buck hay, mix grain, feed the calves, and help you in every way to manage your prize-winning dairy herd. You always imagined they would someday inherit all this from you and, as brothers, continue to operate the herd and the farm.
Your older son, just back from four years at the university studying dairy science, is quiet and responsible. He sees what needs to be done and does it without needing to be told. If the sprinkler in the wash pen is clogged or a milking machine is broken, he fixes it and never says a word.
Your younger son works hard alongside you from sun up to sun-down. Then at night, he goes off to play the party animal. He spends many nights and your money — chasing girls and getting drunk with his football buddies from his high school days.
Several months ago, he asked for his half of the inheritance — in cash. Against your better judgment, you gave it to him, a decision you now regret. The last you heard, he was somewhere in Tijuana, Mexico, spending his nights in cantinas and his money on prostitutes. Your older son still goes about his work running the dairy, but now under a dark grey cloud of anger and resentment.
What thoughts fill your mind at night when there's nothing worth watching on TV? Do you thank God you're finally rid of that irresponsible son, so that you and his more trustworthy brother can run the farm without him? I don't think so!
If you're a typical father, you worry. You replay over and over in your head the dangers: a fistfight in a Mexican bar that suddenly turns deadly with the flash of a knifeblade, or the stench of a squalid, crumbling Mexican jail cell.
You pray the phone will ring, but it doesn't. Morning, evening and at noon, you walk to the mail box and stand for a moment looking down the road each way ... just in case. You search each day's mail for an envelope or postcard in his handwriting, and when nothing arrives, you miss him. And you worry.
One morning, your younger son finds himself peering through the torn curtain of a cheap Tijuana motel room and, awakens with the taste of stale beer in his mouth to discover that last night's prostitute is gone, along with all his money. Now it's his turn to worry. Having hit rock bottom, he sobers up with some black coffee and considers his limited options.
For the first time in quite a while he thinks of someone other than himself. He is overwhelmed by thoughts of the heartache he's caused you. He wants more than anything else in all the world to see you. Just to see your face. He yearns to have opportunity to sincerely apologize and ask your forgiveness. He wants so much to be with you.
As his alcohol haze begins to clear, he remembers that you pay your relief workers on the dairy a decent wage. He knows he has blown any chance of ever being your son again. Yet, he knows how to work and do all the chores around the farm ... milking cows ... bucking hay ... and, he wants to ask you if you might, just might, be willing to give him a job ... as a hired worker.
What's your answer? You know he's the best and strongest worker you ever had. You see him sober, standing in front of you. Do you hire him? No! You don't! Because in this story the dairy farmer represents God.
And God says there's more rejoicing in Heaven over one lost sheep who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous who need no repentance.
You don't hire him, you throw a party for him, you barbecue one of the calves, you dress him up in your best suit, you put your ring on his finger, you crank up the stereo.
Your prodigal son has come to his senses and has come home!
So, the story is about God forgiving sinners? Partly, but not entirely. The crisis, you see, comes when your older son returns from cutting hay all day long in the blazing sun and discovers you throwing a party for your wayward younger son.
Predictably, he hits the roof, and tells you exactly what he thinks of your little party. All the anger and resentment he has kept under wraps comes out and, interestingly, it's not directed at his brother, the sinner. It's directed at God.
The self-righteousness in him surfaces, and each of his objections begin with "I". "I worked hard for you all my life." "I milked the cows." "I stacked hay from sunrise to sunset."
His reaction reminds us of another place in Scripture ... "I prophesied in Your Name, Lord." "I cast out demons in Your Name, Lord." "I performed miracles in Your Name, Lord."
You see, this story is not about how many good works one has done. It's about what's in our heart ... and actions which come from that very deep place in the heart.
On that soon-coming Great Day of Judgement, what will you hear Jesus say? Will He say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into your rest?" Or will His words be, "Depart from me, you cursed. I never knew you?"
My dear brothers and sisters — "Today is the day of Salvation!" The door of repentance is open. Jesus stands with His arms wide open continually beckoning each of us — His children — to come home to Him. Will you answer His call today? Will you respond? Don't wait! We have no promise of tomorrow!
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