A Prodigal Disaster

In Luke 15, Jesus is sitting around with a bunch of “sinners and tax collectors.” If you’re a good practicing Jew of the day, this is very offensive. Sinners break the rules. Tax collectors are part of the corrupt system that is persecuting the Jews and keeping them impoverished. If Jesus is going to bring about “the kingdom of God” they’ve been waiting for, this isn’t what it is supposed to look like.

So Jesus starts telling stories. And he tells one story in particular about a lost son. In this story, the younger son runs away from home. He takes his family's money, he tells his father to “go die,” and he leaves. Then, after months of wild living and excessive partying, he hits bottom. He runs out of money and he comes back. And when he does, the father is so elated he throws a banquet. He spares no expense and brags to everyone about his lost son’s redemption.

The metaphor is obvious—when something that was lost is found, the joy surpasses the pain of the loss. All is forgiven. All is right with the world for the father and the son.

But this metaphor doesn’t stop with the lost son being found. In this story, there’s also an elder brother, and he has an opinion. When the father throws a party for the younger son who has returned, the elder son is furious. He didn’t run away. He didn’t take the money from his family. He didn’t wish his father dead. He didn’t disgrace his parents. He did everything he was supposed to do, like the good eldest son he was always expected to be. He stayed. And in all honesty, he gets screwed in this whole sequence of events. His blue-collar work ethic goes unrecognized. His selfish brother gets more, even though he deserves less.

On the surface, the story doesn’t even get a happy ending. The eldest son is outraged and refuses to go into the party. In verse 31 the father comes to the eldest son, begging him to come in, and says “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

And that’s it. The story ends with the father telling the son to “suck it up.” Think about those priests and pharisees and devout religious leaders overhearing this story. Jesus appears to be saying, “Suck it up because these sinners, and these tax collectors, and these people who are the very middle of the corruption in ancient Israel, these are the ones who deserve to be celebrated. They will get more in the end.” Can you imagine how insulting this must feel if you devoted your whole life to the Kingdom of God?

How relatable this story is to today? How often do you look around at the world and see corruption go unpunished? Do you know someone who doesn’t seem to ever have to work for what they get? Have you ever felt over looked or unrewarded for all of your effort? Have you ever felt like the rules that matter to you don’t seem to apply to everyone? Have you ever been told to just suck it up?

On the surface, the story doesn’t get a happy ending. But in reality, this is Jesus injecting humanity into justice.And I finally understood it, after watching disaster movies.

One of my favorite disaster films is Twister. The 1996 thriller tells the story of Jo and Bill, two storm chasers trying to revolutionize storm tracking technology by launching a super computer into a tornado. Jo has a workaholic devotion to her work, after losing her father at a young age in a violent storm. Bill, on the other hand, is ready to settle down and move into a more stable part of meteorology, and he’s not sure his relationship with Jo will survive.

In one scene near the climax, their super computer has just been crushed by a tree and the sensors are scattered across the highway. Jo scrambles to collect the pods while their team, watching the radar, warns them to move on before the next tornado drops right on them. As Bill begs Jo to go with him, she begins to rant about her need to avenge her father. She is on the hunt for justice—because her life has not been fair. But Bill says, “stop living in the past and look at what you have right in front of you...me Jo!” (You can watch the clip here: https://youtu.be/p5rFyo05ebs)

This is what the father is saying to the elder son. As the son says “it’s not fair after everything he’s done.” And the father says “stop living in the past and look what you have right in front of you...me!

When we see corruption go unpunished, God says “Look at what you have right in front of you...”
When others get more and we get less, God says, “Look at what you have right in front of you...”
When your work goes unrecognized, God says, “Look at what you have right in front of you...”
When the rules don’t apply to everyone equally, God says, “Look at what you have right in front of you...”
When you have to suck it up, God says, “Look at what you have right in front of you...”

And the implication of this is tremendously significant. The stories are different, but the father loves both sons. So the message of the story isn’t “suck it up because at least God loves you.” The message is that the people who hurt you are loved too. They are right there on the journey with you. God loves them, and he loves you.

So, when faced with injustice…

Do we skip the party? Do we stand out in the storm? Do we eavesdrop like the pharisees? Or do we realize that from injustice there is an invitation--an invitation to forgiveness, an invitation to love, an invitation to family and community--all right in front of you.

Because that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.

Zach Herzog

*Join us in praying the Daily Texts.

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