In his book The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller points out that the two brothers represent the two basic ways people try to make life work. The younger son pursues “self-discovery”— he’s on a quest to find and fulfill himself, even if a few people have to get hurt along the way. The older brother is committed to a more socially respectable way of being in the world—the way of “moral conformity.” He’s on a program of self-salvation, earning the approval of his community and the favor of his father; when he feels the terms of this deal are violated, his good attitude evaporates into resentment…
As we pondered the implications (in a Bible Study this woman was part of), one of the women confessed, “Still, it doesn’t seem fair that the father had never thrown a party for the older. Several of us admitted that we, too, to the son’s complaint.”
We moved on to another of Jesus’ stories: the parable of the Great Banquet. I began to wonder if, from Jesus’ perspective, having a feast thrown in one’s honor is a blessing, but being invited to help the father host the banquet is a vastly greater gift. My husband and I love holding pool parties in our backyard. When things go well—when lots of pert come and the food is tasty and there is laughter: and music and good conversation – there is a particular satisfaction and intimacy we share as we do together over the cleanup.
Maybe the father in Jesus’ story felt he could honor and bless his oldest boy more by inviting him into the deeper relationship of mutual service than by merely giving him a party of his own. Maybe becoming a Christian is not only accepting Jesus into my life, but also accepting his incredible invitation to be a part of his life—to participate missionally in the triune God’s cosmic plan of redemption.
As Jesus tells it, the Father is hosting a lavish banquet, and we’re invited—not because of our own merit, but because he loves us. And there’s more. He’s invited us to help him throw the party – neither as servants nor as guests – but as family.