Reckless Living, Reckless Love

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“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:31–32, ESV).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
This is a story about a father with two sons who are very different from each other. However, they both suffer from the same sin. As we review the story, see if you can spot the sin they have in common. Here’s one clue: Remember to whom Jesus is speaking—tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and teachers of the law. These two groups have the same sin in common, too.
The younger son is the one we know better. He’s the brash, ungrateful brat who goes to his father one day and demands his share of the inheritance—about one-third of his father’s estate. With so much wealth, he decides he really doesn’t need his father’s help anymore—not to mention the rules and the chores and the responsibilities. So, it’s off to a faraway land and the high life.
Living large is fun while it lasts, and it attracts a lot of friends—maybe not the best kind, but you’ve always got company around you. However, it also takes a lot of money. So it’s only a matter of time until he finds himself dead broke and alone—the fruits of his reckless living. He hires himself out to a pig farmer. Talk about embarrassing. Imagine a poor Jewish boy going to work for New Horizon Farms. Being so hungry that pig feed looks good. Talk about hitting rock bottom.
But sometimes, suffering like that has an upside. It wakes you up. It makes you remember what you left behind. That’s a good thing—especially if you can still go back. The lost son realizes he really wants to go back. But can he? When you’ve cut and run with a sizable chunk of your father’s wealth, when you’ve as much as wished him dead, that bridge might be already be burnt beyond repair.
So the lost son comes up with a plan. He writes the best groveling speech he can write: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s a two-part confession. First, he admits that he’s forfeited his right as a son. Second, he offers to be a servant, to earn his keep. But will the father buy it? I guess that depends upon the character of the father. There’s only one way to find out for sure—you’ve got to head home with your hat in your hand. Not easy to be sure, but it certainly beats dumpster diving with the pigs.
From Jesus’ description, we get the clear sense that the father has been watching for his wayward son every day since he left. We can just imagine the father going out to the end of his driveway, checking the mailbox for a letter from his lost boy. Looking down the road wistfully, praying to see his son’s familiar profile on the horizon.
Then one day, his father finally sees him in the distance. Delighted, the father runs to him. This is never done in middle eastern society, by the way. It is considered undignified for an adult male to run anywhere. And wayward sons respectfully walk every inch, and they grovel the last few. But this father, in full view of the neighbors, runs out to meet the son that wanted him dead. And if that isn’t outrageous enough, he embraces and kisses the boy, who still reeks of pigs, as though nothing shameful had ever happened between them.
And the son begins his confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But before he can say any more, his father cuts him off. He calls a servant and tells him to bring the best robe, a ring, and sandals, and to kill the fattened calf. Quite the party for an ingrate who has so recently spent his whole inheritance on reckless living. Wouldn’t it be prudent to pull back a little—put the prodigal on a probation period until he has proved himself? 
How great is the love the father lavishes upon his son! It is reckless love. No matter the sins and the foolishness of his boy, he is still his son. Therefore, the father will not hear of an offer to become a hired man. Instead, he declares his lost son is found. And he gives him all the trappings to witness to the community that he has received his son back in good standing. The lost one has been found! He was as good as dead, but is now alive and back in the family. It’s time for a party!
That’s the story of the younger son. Now we turn to the older son and the sin he shares with his brother. The older son is the responsible one with the good work ethic. He’s been slaving away while his good-for-nothing brother has been gone doing only God knows what. At the end of another day, the older son comes near the house, and he’s surprised to hear music and dancing. There’s an impromptu celebration going on, but what could it be? A servant tells him: “Your brother has come, and your father’s celebrating because he has him back safe and sound.”
Now, there’s a thankless kick in the gut for you. Worthless brother’s found his way home after losing everything—and the father throws a party?! There’s no way he’s going to be a part of this travesty! There’s no way he’s going inside! So the ever-patient father has to come out to plead with this son to join in the celebration. But the older brother’s words reveal his sin. Listen carefully and see if you can spot it: “Look! These many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”
Wait a minute! Do you really think this older son never disobeyed His father’s commands? He’s not exactly being very obedient at this point, is he? And where did the “prostitutes” come from? Jesus said “reckless living.” That could mean he binge watched Fuller House, slept in late, and ate high cholesterol snacks. It doesn’t necessarily mean he dallied with the ladies of the evening.
The older son’s words sound like something an unscrupulous politician might say to drive his primary opponent down a few points in the polls. Or like something a mean girl might post on social media about her rival for the star quarterback’s affections. Certainly nothing like brotherly love. These words are reckless gossip… the language of resentment… putting the worst construction on another’s actions… overstatement for effect.
But their effect is totally lost on the father. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” How reckless is the love the father lavishes upon both of his sons! His grace abounds not only to the prodigal, irresponsible younger son, but also to his resentful, self-righteous older son as well.
The brothers seem so different in every way. Each has his own sins to deal with. But there’s one they have in common. Have you spotted it? It is this: Both believe that their father's love depends on what they do. Both believe that their sonship depends on their obedience. The younger son—the prodigal—believes that because of his sins he has forfeited his sonship. At best, he can only hope to earn his place as a hired man. And the older son believes that he’s more of a son than his brother because he’s the one who’s stayed home and worked hard in the fields. Therefore, he should be favored because he’s earned the right.
Both arguments make sense. But both of them insult the father’s love. The younger son is saying, “My father’s love is conditional. He can’t love me as a son because I’ve sinned. Therefore, he’ll only help me if I earn it somehow, if I become his slave, if I prove my worthiness.” And the older son is saying, “My father’s love is conditional. He should love me more because I’ve earned it.” They come at it from opposing directions, but both sons are declaring that their father’s love is limited and conditional. It is indeed a very reckless love!
Having realized this, now, remember the father of the parable is really none other than God the Father. And those two sons are very much like the tax collectors and Pharisees to whom Jesus first told this parable. The tax collectors might well be tempted to think, “I have sinned against God so much that He’ll only love me if I prove that I am worthy.” The Pharisees are tempted to believe, “God loves us so much more than those tax collectors because, while they’ve been living a sinful life, we’ve been hard at work to be good sons.” But both have this sin in common: they believe that God’s love for them is based upon their performance. It makes sense, but it also says that God’s love is limited and conditional.
This same sin lurks within us, too. To say, “God will not love me unless I do better” is to say that God’s love is conditional and must be earned. To say, “God must love me more because I’ve been in church every Sunday,” is to say God’s love is conditional, and that you’ve somehow earned it.
Saying that God’s love is conditional is bad enough, but there is a greater offense at work. It insults your Savior, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. He goes to the cross, suffers, and declares, “It is finished!” But sinners respond, “No, it’s not. God won’t love me just because of You. God will only love me if I earn His love.” This says that Jesus’ death isn’t enough for my sin. His atoning sacrifice is not sufficient for all sin. How terrible a sin is that?
But our loving Father doesn’t want to leave us in our sin. There’s Good News that must be told when we look at the parable’s Father. But before we speak of Him, let me ask you this: As a child, what did you do to earn the right to be a son or daughter in your family? Did you pay dues? Take vows? Sign a contract? No-o-o. You did absolutely nothing. You were born—given unearned life or you were chosen and lovingly adopted as a son or daughter, and that’s how you became part of the family.
How about when you obeyed your parents? Were you more of a son or daughter? No. When you disobeyed them and got in trouble, were you less of a son or daughter? No. You may have suffered disapproval, but you were still part of the family. Whether you were the perfect angel or a total brat, you were still a son or daughter. In fact, the only way you would no longer be part of the family is if you ran away from home and never came back. Then, your parents couldn’t care for you—not because they didn’t want to, but because you weren’t there.
In the same way, the brothers of our parable are sons of their father. It’s not because of their obedience; it’s because they are his sons. And once they can get past their sins in the text, this is good news. Whether they have a good day or a bad one, the father still loves them. Why does God love you? Because you are His son. Whether male or female, the Bible declares you a son of God, an heir of the kingdom of heaven. And why are you? It is not by your reason or strength, your doing or worthiness. It’s because God’s Son has redeemed you, He’s suffered the judgment for the sins that would keep you out of the family of God. And the same is true of that wayward brother of yours who is presently living recklessly.
Jesus, our Older Brother, certainly would have every right and reason to resent His Father’s extravagant love toward us. Our reckless living cost Him more than His favorite fattened calf. It cost Him everything… life and breath, flesh and blood, body and soul. But despite this, He joyfully shares His eternal inheritance with us. And He celebrates with angels in heaven when we receive it by faith.
So today, rejoice and celebrate. The full price for your sin has been paid. Jesus did not die to make you slaves who now must earn your keep. He died to make you sons—part of the family now and forever. Thus the Father declares to you: “You are Mine, and of this you can be certain, because My Son paid the full price for you by His death on the cross. You can be certain because I adopted you in Holy Baptism, gave you the robe of My Son’s righteousness. By water and Word, I made you My child. You can be certain that you remain in My family because I keep reminding you in My Word. For as long as you are forgiven, you are Mine. And you can be certain that you remain in My family because I keep bringing you to My table. As long as you’re being strengthened and preserved with My body and blood, you are Mine until life everlasting.
“When you sin against Me, you are still Mine and I do not love you any less. My love for you is based upon My Son’s obedience—His perfect life and sacrificial death—not your behavior. Children may disobey their parents, but they are still in the family. They may need discipline and forgiveness, but they’re still loved. Likewise, your sins are disobedience, but you are still My child. I will discipline you to bring you to repentance, but when I do, I don’t love you any less.
“When you keep My Word, I delight. But I do not love you any more than before. I can’t love you any more because My love for you is unconditional. Know, however, that keeping my Word is good for you because each sin and disobedience seeks to pull you away from me. Each one is designed to dissatisfy you with My love so that you eventually reject Me and run away from home. That is the only way that you can ever be lost—by removing yourself from My family. But as long as you are forgiven, you are Mine.”
What joyous news! Your salvation is certain! God has made you His child and gives you eternal life. And because it depends upon Christ, and not upon you, then God’s love and your sonship will never change. Whether you are more like a tax collector or a Pharisee, more like the younger brother or the older brother, you are a son for the sake of Christ. Not a slave who must earn his keep, but a son to whom all is given. Oh, what a reckless love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called sons of God! And that is what you are! For the sake of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, you are forgiven for all of your sin.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.        


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