Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Have you ever had one of those moments in life where for brief period of time the world stood still? The ones you feel deep down in your core that you know that you have seen something special.
Kaitlin and I have been so blessed that we have had many opportunities to travel, it has always been a main priority in our lives. Traveling tends to give you more of these amazing moments, the ones in which you stand in awe, and I definitely have had more than I have deserved. It was the summer of 2017 and we were on a cruise through the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. Our third port of call was Saint Petersburg, Russia. This was one of the stops I was looking forward to the most but also one that we were apprehensive about taking our young family in to. There had been a bombing in their subway system in April, just a few months prior. There were tensions between our governments, even a little more than normal with jets being seen regularly overhead on training exercises. We put any fears aside and Kaitlin and I being the nerds that we are decided to do an amazing four hour tour through The Hermitage, a massive complex that includes The Winter Palace, where the Tsars of Russia once called home. It is now an art museum, not just any museum though, it is the second largest museum in the world (The Louvre is #1) and contains the world's largest collection of paintings.
People said we were crazy for taking our children to the Baltic, let alone taking them on tours through museums and churches but I will tell you, those two (Mac will catch up I am sure) have seen more in their short lives than I could have ever dreamed of, and Kaitlin and I would feel empty if we did not experience these moments with them. Part of #liveitfull is having these moments with our children. We saw things that we may never see again, amazing sculptures, incredible architecture and, the connection I am going to make now with Faith, Family & Finances, thousands of paintings. With respect to this post, a room full of Rembrandt's. It is not just a wall with a few paintings, it is an entire room the size of a banquet hall, full of Rembrandt's masterpieces.
The museum is crowded, bustling with tourists from all over the world. The lines to enter can wrap around for what looks like miles, and with so much on exhibit it is easy to miss something. They say if you spent one minute looking at each exhibit that it would take 11 years to get through the museum. However I remember glancing over to this painting and knowing it was one of those moments I would remember. It is the last painting in the room before you exit, probably intentionally as a Rembrandt finale of sorts, as many feel it is his finest work ever. Looking at pictures online it is difficult to judge is stature, it is immense, over eight feet tall, and it stopped me in my tracks.
I remember standing there in awe, having a private moment to myself, the world stood still and tears began to swell up in my eyes. We all can relate to someone in this painting, the forgiving father, the elder brother, the mother tucked away in the back, and of course, the prodigal son. Then reality hit, the girls bouncing around me, my moment of awe turned quickly into a hurried shuffle to see the next room before my kids destroy something priceless. So in haste, I did not get a great picture of it but as the French say, c'est la vie.
A few Sunday's ago at church, our pastor showed a picture of this very painting, as he discussed the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke. It brought back all the memories of this trip, of the parable, and of my own family relationships. I immediately felt called to write about it in this series on Faith, Family, and Finances. This parable hits on all three so well. It is one of the most well known parables that Jesus told, more people seem to be familiar with it than any other. However if you are not that is ok, below is the scripture from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus told three stories about lost things in Luke 15 (a coin, a sheep, and a son). These stories were in response to the Pharisees complaint that Jesus was hanging out with a rough crowd of sinners. The thing is, the sinners knew they were sinful and sought out Jesus, the Pharisees could not see they were sinful and sought to silence Jesus.
I had never given much thought to what the world prodigal actually meant. I knew the parable and the meaning of what Jesus was saying, we all learned that in Sunday school many years ago but as I sat here ready to write about it, I thought to myself, what does prodigal actually mean? Well here it is in case you were not sure. It is certainly fitting for the son who was audacious enough to go to his father, a man who undoubtedly loved him beyond measure, and say something to this effect...
"Hey dad, I know you are not dead yet, but since half of all this is going to be mine when you do in fact die, how about you go ahead and give it to me. I plan to skip town to waste it on booze and hookers."
I am going to make some assumptions and read between the lines a bit as Jesus doesn't give us great detail, I can only hope that He would approve. I picture this son being the baby of the family, likely a little spoiled and entitled, coddled a little too much by his mother. Perhaps a teenager, that awkward point of time in a man's life where he biologically and physically is every bit a grown man but emotionally still so much a boy. He most likely was a little brash, arrogant, and knew it all, even though he had experienced nothing but comfort and ease in life. We learn in life from our failures, not our victories, as he will find out soon. Unfortunately, in retrospect it is easy to see much of myself in this younger son at the same age. He is what I would call now, an uncoachable kid, one that does not need advice because he already knows best.
In life we it is not common to inherit anything until someone has died, so the fact that the son would ask for his share in advance, he is basically saying, "Dad, you are dead to me". I am not sure there is much worse a parent could hear from a child. Part of me wonders, did the son really mean it when he asked the question? Was he perhaps testing the limits of his fathers love? Was he shocked when his father said yes? I can not fathom going to my father as a young man and doing this.
I grew up in a small town, one in which I said I would never move back ( funny enough, it will be 10 years in November that we did), it was a town that was always better looking in my rear view mirror, or so I thought. I wonder, is this how the youngest son felt? Did he feel like there is nothing there for him, that he needed to get out of that one horse town, as many of us have done at that age. Life will be better somewhere else, I suspect he convinced himself.
I've read some a few different interpretations on the older brother, most have said he is meant to represent the Pharisees, a legalistic unrepentant soul. When I first read this I had some serious internal conflict, I suppose I always glossed over the part of him being so angry and instead focused on the prodigal son. I mean, I get it, he was livid with his brother and father. I have been there, I wish I could say I grew up in a perfect home but I have been angry at a sibling for tearing at the seams of our families fabric. Part of me says he is totally justified, he had every right to be angry. To be honest I had to contemplate this for a couple days because on some levels I really relate to him. This son and brother who by all standards was a stand up guy, a man who was morally in the right, who walked the straight and narrow is skipping out on the party to celebrate his brother, who obviously is less than worthy. With that swirling around my head, I started to wonder *insert dramatic gasp* am I thinking like a Pharisee? I went searching for some guidance and answers and came across this excerpt from Timothy Keller's Book "The Prodigal God", I feel like it helped me wrap my head around it.
I think that most of my life when I have read this parable my focus has been on the fact that the prodigal came home, humbled himself before his father and was forgiven and don't get me wrong, that is a major part of it. I missed the fact that the brother in all his morality and righteousness lacked grace. The father, transcended being human, first when he divided up his estate, let his son sell it, and skip town. The second when he without hesitation embraced and forgave his son. Not to say that an earthly father would not do that but I think it is clear that Jesus is illustrating the love our Heavenly father shows us. So that really leaves the brothers, both human, one humbled and repentant and one not. Looking in from the outside it would be easy to judge them both, but Jesus wants us to look deeper. Which is harder, to swallow your pride and go home when you have hit rock bottom? Or to do it when you have never been close to the bottom?
You know it is not fair, the brother who squandered his inheritance to be celebrated, while the upright brother is left outside. There is nothing fair about it. It reminds me of the workers Jesus speaks of in Matthew 20. If you agreed to a wage for a job would you be upset if someone else was paid the same to do less? Of course, that is not fair right? It makes no economic or even common sense, which is exactly what Jesus is trying to convey. God's grace is not fair, I'm going to say that again, GRACE IS NOT FAIR. At least not to our simple human minds. It is not fair because NO ONE deserves it, neither of the brothers did for sure. No one deserves God's grace but yet we all may equally receive it. The Pharisees much like the older brother thought that by being better that others, they would win the prize of being most religious. We cannot compare ourselves to others, we have to run our own race. When we do that we realize that God's grace is not fair, but it is perfect.
It is human nature for the older brother to be angry and most ofthe world would tell him that that he is justified in it. As a Christian though, we have to let love shine through.Grace and love are what separate us from the rest of the world. Jesus did not deserve the cross but he took it on for all of us. The older brother missed out on a celebration because of his own hubris. He wanted someone to celebrate his righteousness instead of the redemption of his brother. The father even tells him, you have always been with me, everything I have is yours, but we have to celebrate that your brother who once was lost is found. All the older brother had to do was let go of his pride and go to the party. Would he have been any less righteous? Would he have compromised his convictions? Absolutely not, it would have shown grace, grace in which God the father shows us all, everyday. Both of the brothers were in need God's grace, but only one humbled himself to receive it.
There have been times in my life that I have been dead and through God's grace have been alive again. There have also been times I have been the elder brother, too blinded by my own self righteousness to see my brother has been lost and now is found. Being part of a family is hard, yesterday was national sibling day, it made me think about my life and my own sisters. One has been lost but now she is home. I could hold on to my anger as it is probably justified, but I have chosen to show grace, just as the father has shown us.
If you missed the first two parts of this series; Faith, Family, & Fiances you can find them by following the links below.
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