Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Story of Abe & Gabe

"I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter...and I think it's about forgiveness..."  ~ Don Henley

Today I want to take a new look at a familiar story. If you have ever spent any time around a Christian church, you have almost certainly heard a pastor preach on the parable of The Prodigal Son as found in Luke 15:11-31. You know that Jesus told a story of a father with two sons (we'll call them Abe and Gabe to keep it straight). The younger son, Gabe, decided he wanted his share of his father's estate so he could see the world. The father gave him his share, and Gabe set off on his adventure. He quickly blew the money on wine, women and wild living. He found himself in need of food and shelter and hired himself out to feed pigs. He was so hungry he wanted to eat the pig's food, but no one offered him any. He came to his senses and decided to return home, for his father's employees were much better off than he was. He would admit his sins and his unworthiness to his Dad and ask to be hired on as a servant. His father saw him coming and ran to him and hugged him. Gabe confessed his sins, but his father was not interested in the past. He called for his best robe and a feast in honor of Gabe's return. A huge party was planned. Meanwhile, Abe was out working in the field, as he always was. When he found out that not only was his worthless brother back, but that his Dad was throwing Gabe a party, Abe was not happy. He protested to his father that he had always been there and had always served him well, but no one had ever killed a prize calf for him. His father responded, "Abe, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because Gabe was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!"

We understand that in this parable of Jesus the father represents our Heavenly Father. His love never fails us, no matter how we may fail Him. It is so clear in the story that God is not just waiting for us to come back to Him when sin separates us; He is out looking for us. Jesus said that the father "ran to meet to him" when Gabe returned home. Our "Abba Father" offers a forgiveness and grace that we cannot fully understand. This parable, along with the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep parables also found in Luke 15, make it quite clear that God rejoices every time the lost are found and every time we return to Him. There are no limits on God's love.

We all understand what it is like to be Gabe. We all sin. We all fall away from God. I hope you understand (as I certainly do) what it feels like to have God welcome you home. But for those of us in the church, it is the attitude of Abe that offers a cautionary tale. To me, Abe too often represents the church, the body of believers. We are a people who think that our piety, faithfulness or even mere involvement entitle us to greater blessings from God. How can God forgive the thief, the murderer or the abuser- even if they repent? Haven't they thrown salvation away? Aren't those stains permanent? It seems so unfair to those who feel like they have been with God the whole time. We miss the party. While Gabe is inside at a festive family reunion, Abe is outside throwing stones, bitter and unwilling to forgive. Which brother is truly lost?

We believe that because of Jesus our sins are forgiven. Sometimes we don't believe that God would ever forgive THEM -those "real" sinners. For many years I taught this parable, and for many years I thought I understood grace. It has only been in the past few years that I have truly grasped what it means to have the Father waiting on my return to the family, even though I could not imagine I deserved such love. I came to realize that grace could not be fully comprehensible until I realized how lost I was- until the pig food starting looking good! I experienced what it means to fall into the loving arms of God (and my family & friends) at the time that I least deserved it. It is that kind of love that the church universal often fails to offer to those who are lost. Share the love. Don't be an Abe. It has been said for the church to really be the church, we need to have our hearts broken by the things that break the heart of God. And according to Jesus, nothing breaks God's heart like people who are lost and hurting. My prayer today is that the church would open it's arms and show the world what our Heavenly Father's love is like when we come running home to Him- from wherever we may have been...

Because of Jesus,

1 comment:

  1. Carl, thank you for your take on this. Love it.


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