July 21: The Perfect Child and the Wild Child

Posted on : Jul 18th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

I think just about everybody can relate to one of the two brothers in this Sunday’s story of faith.  It’s a story that has attracted people’s attention throughout history.  Sometimes it’s called the story of the “Prodigal Son,” though no one is quite sure what a “prodigal” is.  It loosely means someone with “loose morals.”  I call it the story of “the perfect child” and “the wild child.”

The older brother in this story does everything he “should” to please his father.  He is the perfect child:  responsible, hard-working, and honors family tradition.  His younger brother is his opposite. He is ‘the wild child.”  He likes to party.  He doesn’t have much use for work.  He likes to “play around.”  He’s not very responsible.  He’s also pretty audacious.  In fact, he has the audacity to ask his own father for his portion of his father’s inheritance before his father dies!

In Jewish society, there were laws regarding how inheritances were typically divided. The oldest brother got a double share (cf. Deut. 21:17), while the other brothers got a single share.

When there were two brothers (as here), the older brother would get 2/3rds of the estate, and the younger brother would get 1/3rd.

For some reason – the story never tells us why – the father decides to give his younger son his share of the inheritance, and the younger brother goes on a wild binge.  He spends the money on drugs, sex and alcohol.  He has a really good time partying, but then the money runs out and all his friends abandon him.

I remember this happening to one of the members of our church.  For many years he was destitute and homeless, living on the streets of LA.  He got into a sober living program with safe-housing and was getting it together.  He met a partner and eventually moved in with him.  His life was transformed.  His life was like a fairy tale.  He went from rags to riches.  Sadly, after a number of years together, his partner died unexpectedly and his life began to fall apart.  He started using drugs again and was spending upwards of $20,000 per month on drugs.  He was extremely popular in the party circuit.  Everybody loved him as long as he bought the drugs that everyone craved.  But after a few years he had spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were left to him – more than enough money to sustain him for the rest of his life.  But when he ran out of money, just about everyone left him.  The only friends who stayed with him were a few of us from the church.  He ended up homeless.  Sometimes he lived in shelters, sometimes on the street.  His health deteriorated rapidly.  We lost contact with him, but I would be amazed if he were alive today.

The younger brother in our story this Sunday had the same kind of experience, what in 12-step recovery programs is called “hitting the bottom.”  This guy recognized that he had to do something or he would die.  So he started looking for work. But the only work he could find was working as a farm hand, feeding pigs.  For a Jewish boy, who was not allowed to be near pigs because of kosher laws, this was a fate near equal to death.  And one day, while feeding the pigs, he “comes to his senses.”  He realizes that his life is a total disaster, while his brother and father are living the good life.

So, he heads home to his father and decides he will apologize to his father and ask his father to hire him, not as a son but as a low paid worker.  Even that would be better than waddling in pig poop.  His father sees him coming from a distance and breaks forth into ecstatic joy.  He calls his household staff together and orders a calf to be slaughtered for a huge welcome home/celebration feast.

Meanwhile, the older brother is furious.  He’s done everything right his whole life, and his father has never thrown a party for him. The older brother is so mad, he won’t even speak to his father, or come in from working in the fields to see his younger brother.  He is furious.

So who is right in this story?  Is it fair for the father to give his younger son that much attention and honor, after he went and spent his inheritance on drugs, sex and alcohol?  Or is the older brother wrong for being so childish, so jealous, and so insecure about his father’s love for his younger brother?

This story of faith takes on a whole new level of meaning when you have lived through this kind of dysfunction and pain in your own family.  It is gut wrenching and grueling for those who have lived the part of the older brother as well as for those who have lived the part of the younger brother.

So who’s right?  That’s what we’ll look at this Sunday.




~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Luke 15:11-32

The story of the perfect child and the wild child.

Jesus told this parable:  A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to their father, “Give me the share of the estate that is coming to me.”  So the father divided up the property between them.  Some days later, the younger son gathered up his belongings and went off to a distant land.  Here he squandered all his money on loose living.

“After everything was spent, a great famine broke out in the land, and the son was in great need. So he went to a landowner, who sent him to a farm to take care of the pigs.  The son was so hungry that he could have eaten the husks that were fodder for the pigs, but no one made a move to give him anything.  Coming to his senses at last, he said, “How many hired hands at my father’s house have more than enough to eat, while here I am starving!  I’ll quit and go back home and say, I’ve sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called one of your children.  Treat me like one of your hired hands.”  With that, the young son set off for home.

While still a long way off, the father caught sight of the returning child and was deeply moved.  The father ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, “I’ve sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called one of your children.”  But his father said to one of the workers, “Quick!  Bring out the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.  Take the calf we’ve been fattening and butcher it.  Let’s eat and celebrate!  This son of mine was dead and has come back to life.  He was lost and now he’s found!”  And the celebration began.

Meanwhile the elder son had been out in the field.  As he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the workers and asked what was happening.  The worker answered, “Your brother is home and the fatted calf has been killed because your father has him back safe and sound.”

The son got angry at this and refused to go into the party, but his father came out and pleaded with him.  The older son replied, “I never disobeyed even one of your orders, yet you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends.  But then this son of yours comes home after going through your money with prostitutes, and you kill the fatted calf for him!”

“But my child!” the father said.  “You’re with me always, and everything I have is yours.  But we have to celebrate and rejoice!  This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and now he’s found.”

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