Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pharisees Anonymous

"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate. Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'  And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"  (Luke 15:20-32, NASB)

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Hello. My name is Mark, and I am a Pharisee. I haven’t always recognized the fact that I am a Pharisee, but that’s also part of the issue.

For those of us who grew up “in church” and hearing the stories since we were old enough to sit in front of a flannel graph board, the story of the Prodigal has got to be a favorite. It’s the story of a young man with an iron-strong will who rebels against his father and wastes his inheritance on all manner of worthless living and adventures. He crawls back home at the end, penniless and brought low. His father, ever gracious, lets him back into the family and restores him. And they almost all live happily ever after …

For many, the emphasis on this story has always been the repentant prodigal son. This was largely the case for me through the years. At some point, your interpretation may shift to the father. We’ve always know he was a picture of God, absolutely lavish in His willingness to forgive. Both of those are good perspectives to have as we all are prodigals at some point and the ultimate goal is to act like our Father above in His relentless ability to forgive and restore. I, for one, have come to the conclusion that the person of the father in the story is far more important, but that particular thought must wait for another time and another entry.

The person of the older brother is, to my way of thinking, a more accurate portrait of many of us who grew up “in church”. I came to that realization while my Tuesday morning group was studying Henry Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son. And when I say I came to the realization, I mean it fell on my like a load of building bricks dropped in great quantity from a very high altitude. My reaction was only slightly less visceral than another friend who said he’d read some of it and actually throw it down as if it were on fire. For some of us, it is just that kind of book.

In our spiritual journey from being the prodigal son to becoming the father, far too many of us spend a lifetime being the condescending, angry older brother. From the passage, we note that what he really wanted was justice on his own terms. And those terms specified his brother get punished for his reckless life of sin and he get rewarded for always doing the right thing. He had faithfully done everything on “the list” the way it was supposed to be done … weekly church attendance, Bible reading, visitation, etc. … and now it all came to a head when his father, in a selfless act of redemption, celebrated when the younger brother came crawling home. Well, no wonder he was angry at the outcome. You aren’t supposed to be rewarded for living a life like that, right?

This is exactly where “Pharisees Anonymous” should kick in. The Pharisee within me, no matter how hard I try, seems to get angry when things don’t turn out the way I think they should. My bruised sense of entitlement is hurt because it just doesn’t make sense. And yet, were I to step back and see from my Father’s point of view, the core message of this story – that one who was dead is now alive and well and in the house – would make me volunteer to go get that calf and prepare it myself.

As I travel my Crooked Path, may God continue to humble me and convict me of my Pharisee ways. He wants me to rejoice along with Him and weep when He weeps, not the other way around. The Pharisee in my must be rooted out.

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  1. Do you struggle against the Pharisee within you? Who have you admitted it to in an effort to help?

  2. Are you on the path to gaining the point of view of the Father, or are you stuck looking through the lens of the older brother?

  3. Are you willing to trade your personal anger for God’s joy, ready to transform your limited vision into a realization of His heart for forgiveness and restoration? What’s holding you back?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. It was from listening to Tim Keller's sermon and from reading Tim Kimmel's book on grace-based parenting that I finally my head screwed on straight about this parable. So often the older brother was portrayed as the good guy in the sermons I heard! Imagine that! HAHAHAHA. But (and I haven't read Nouwen's book, so he may say this too) both sons were prodigals because they didn't realize how much their daddy loved 'em. :(

    No, God isn't angry with us. He loves us.

    And yeah, I'm a recovering Pharisee. I sometimes feel just like Jonah too. But I take heart that God used Paul who used to be Saul the murdering Pharisee. Sigh. . . .