Note: This is #6 in a series of posts. If you have not read the Foreword to the series, I hope you will do that first: Foreward
1. He squandered his wealth in wild living.
2. The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
We take now our 6th look at this parable and we call it “The Parable of the two brothers who lived loosely.”
Loose is the opposite of firm. It is the opposite of hard and fixed. In dealing with what Jesus said in the RSV it is that the youngest son “squandered his property in loose living.” KJV “wasted his substance with riotous living.” Father Luther said simply that “He lived it up!” The Greek can be translated in all these ways, and especially “without restraint.” We can color it any way we want to. We can imagine the saloons and the whiskey and the dance hall girls. We can imagine the lounge lizards fawning over him and getting free drinks. We can imagine the horse races and other forms of gambling. Without restraint! Without any sense of right or wrong. Without any accountability. Without any thought of tomorrow. “Here today, gone tomorrow, so eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!“
But after death, then what? The Bible says, “One death and then the judgment.” The Bible says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to that which he has done in his body.” So, there is a “so what?”; a time of reckoning. A time when this loose living must be accounted for, will be tried, and a verdict will be reached and a sentence will be given!
This son had taken this father’s property which probably had been in that family for generations. The Old Testament tells us about how people held onto their land for generations. It was not only what the son had earned in his years of serving the father, but what his father had earned and built up, and his grandfather, and his great grandfather. And now it was all squandered. That is why the son had said, “Father I have sinned against you and against heaven.” Not only against God in heaven, but against his forebears who were also in heaven. Riotous living! Loose living! Living it up! No restraints! Me only! No tomorrow! But!… tomorrow comes, with or without us.
We would not only miss an important part of this definition, but one of the central issues of the Bible if we stopped here and accepted the definition of loose living as what goes on at a bar or behind closed doors. And that is exactly what a lot of Christians do. They sum it up, as did the elder brother. “This son of yours wasted your living with harlots.”
Notice his charges and they are only two-fold: #1 He lost the property. # 2 He spent it on harlots. He doesn’t mention that the son also broke his father’s heart. He doesn’t mention that the son wasn’t around to do his share of the work. He doesn’t mention that he strayed away from the religion he was taught. He doesn’t mention a lot of things but he does mention two things which may well have been his own weak spot. Maybe he had it in him to do the same things but lacked the courage to do it. Or maybe it was a constant struggle for him and he overcame, and by God! so should have his brother.
I once had an elder who absolutely thought that no divorced person would ever get to heaven. He quoted his scripture verses and they were all absolute. He would have no divorced person within his circle of friends. He wanted none to join our church. I shared this at a pastors’ conference and one pastor told me, “Look carefully at his marriage and you will find a very unhappy man and wife. He has no scriptural grounds for divorce and so he puts up with her and he cannot understand why anyone else cannot do the same.” The pastor was 100% correct. His wife was the most cantankerous woman in town. Everyone knew her and avoided displeasing her. So probably we could make the case that this elder son really wanted to take his fling too, but he fought it and fought it hard and so he had no tolerance for anyone weaker than he.
But as I said, we would miss a main teaching of the Bible if we looked at the symptoms of sin, instead of looking a sin itself. Sin is lawlessness. Sin, according to the New Testament is to fall short of God’s glory! Sin is to lead a life which doesn’t glorify God. Jesus defined the Law as, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your being. And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Anything less is lawlessness!!!
And there is where we break with any other denomination which attempts to treat the symptoms of sin, instead of dealing with sin itself. Sin is not gambling or drinking alcohol or smoking or going to bars or even movies. Sin is not having a TV in your house or even watching one in someone else’s. (Back in my last parish the predominate religion was a fundamentalist group which did not believe in televisions. It was a sin even to have one in the home! People constantly asked me. “Why do these people teach that it is sinful to own a TV and yet they make videos of all their services so that those who were sick can watch?”)
Sin is instead, not loving God with all your heart, soul and mind. Sin is not loving your neighbor as yourself. Sin is what the elder brother was all about because, don’t you see, the Father in the parable is God, the Father? The elder brother did not love Him enough to respect Him and obey Him when his Father told him to come on into the party. The elder son questioned his Father’s sense of right and wrong. Questioned it? No! He criticized it. “All these years I have served you and kept all your commandments and not once did you show me a little kindness, a little appreciation.” “Why, you didn’t even offer to kill a goat and throw a little party for me and for my friends!” This son was living loosely also. He did not keep the commandments for surely this father had tried to instill in both his sons to love and respect him and to love and accept each other!
The Parable of the Father’s two sons who lived loosely, or riotously, or lived it up!
Where do you find yourself this evening? Which of these two riotous sons best describes your life? Self-centered, or self-righteous? Or at times a little of each? Sin is lawlessness! Sin is not loving God with all your heart, soul and mind. It is not loving your neighbor as yourself. “Sin is couching at the door,” God tells us and “It means to devour you. You must master it.”
But you can’t and neither can I. But Christ can. And Christ did. He has won that victory and He freely gives it to you and to me. He gives us the means whereby we can overcome. We said that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. And so we shall. But Jesus also said, “He who believes in Me has passed out of death unto life, he will not face the judgment!” A contradiction? No! You see, that judgment has to do with sin and condemnation and that has been taken care of by Jesus Himself. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid for that in full. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord, that is given to us.
The younger son wasted his living in loose living. But he repented and came home and asked for forgiveness. The elder son stayed around the home and worked, but he still wasted his living in loose living and did not repent. Let us each admit that we were the younger son—and yes at times the elder one too. But let us copy that confession of the younger son, or even the tax collector and simply say, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Amen.
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