Scripture Reference: Luke 15:11ff
People are hard-wired to want storytelling.
My 4-year old granddaughter will sit for an hour on my lap while I read her stories.
Ancient cave dwellers chronicled their hunting stories by pictographs drawn on walls.
Medieval balladeers trooped from village to village like singing newsreels heralding the stories of their civilization— battles, romance, chivalry, villainy.
Even today we hungrily await a new novel by our favorite author or stand in line for a movie sequel.
The Bible is a collection of stories—the Garden of Eden, the tower of Babel, Daniel in the lion’s den, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Such stories are formative narrations that give us our compass in life. They answer questions of God’s existence, right and wrong, the meaning of war, and life after death.
Jesus told the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11. It is about an adolescent farm boy tired of routine, tired of work, tired of family, who wants to kick up his heels, raising hell in the city.
The boy rejected the narrative that explained life in terms of God, family, work, love, routine, and responsibility.
So he insulted his father, wishing he was dead, took an early inheritance, and fled to the city.
His new narrative, that is, his formative core story, told him family was unimportant, God irrelevant, and self to be indulged with wine, women, and song. Money was to be spent, not earned, and real friends were party friends.
He was delusional. He simply did not like how the world is, so he went to the city and worked hard at pretending the real world could be changed by the force of his rebellion.
Ah, but sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences. His feast came when he ran out of money, his friends melted away, and he grew hungry.
It was when he hired himself out to a gentile farmer as a swine slopper, when he was knee deep in pig manure looking eye to eye with a pig and fighting him over some slop for food, that “he came to himself.”
His new narrative as a hedonist didn’t stand the livability test. His old family Jewish narrative was fresh again, believable. It passed the livability test. For as he thought of home he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger.”
So he started for home. The boy who’d left snarling, “Give me!” returned saying, “Make me as a hired servant for I am not worthy to be called your son.”
What’s true of this individual lad is true of our collective nation.
We have rejected the story of God, the Ten Commandments, lifelong marriage, work and reward, Christ and judgment, heaven and hell.
Our new narrative integrating our beliefs, values, and behavior is individual preference, full autonomy, the supremacy of me, myself and I. That is to say, “Me first, me second, and if there is anything left I’ll take that, too!”
We’re talking about anarchy. Or as the Bible said of another sad day in history, “There was no king in that day, but every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).
Look into our society and see if we’re not delusional like the young punk in Jesus’ story. Spending without earning. Skyrocketing debt and politicians telling us, “We have no spending problem.” Free love, sex for pure recreational purposes. Consequences? 72% of Black children are born out of marriage. The fathers never man up to take responsibility financially, to train, or just to be there. It is as if we are saying, “The city, the party that never ends (Democrat?) will take care of me.”
And I can smell the pigsty from here, my friends.
Drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, rape, abortion, perversion, bankruptcy, AIDs, and, ultimately, a society that loses confidence in itself and looks for a father figure who will become our dictator.
“I am not worthy…make me…a hired servant.”
This is our modern story, our centralizing formative narrative.
Ah, but it’s not God’s. For the boy who left saying, “Give me my share” returned saying, “Make me a servant.” His father would have none of it. Instead, he made him a son with responsibilities, with a narrative that matched the real world.
In the end Jesus’ parable, the greatest story ever told, distills three philosophies.
- “I want what I want when I want it.” (Anarchy)
- “I want.” I no longer trust my own judgment. Someone please come and rule over me. (Dictatorship).
- And, “I am wanted.” I have a God, family, work to do, moral boundaries, love. (The Gospel. Responsibility.)
So, how’s it working out for you, buddy? If your story has proven false, your delusions exposed by the harsh light of reality, throw your narrative away, return to God, believe the Gospel story. At the end of the long slog home from pigsty to farm is a waiting Father.