"If you don't see the real me, you won't see what love has won..." Vota

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Which brother are you?

I read this book today during the girls nap time. This book is subtitled, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Keller points out the significance of the role of the loving Father and how the message of the Gospel is summed up in one particular parable. He points out how Christians have made some misconceptions about the Gospel and, more than that, about our own role in the part of salvation. We all will find ourselves in the role of one of the characters of Jesus' parable-- either the younger brother or the elder brother.

The book centers around Jesus' parable of "The Lost Son". Timothy Keller points out that most people read this parable and think the main point of the story is to show how a sinner can come home, which it does, but it doesn't stop here. He points out that Jesus' target audience were not the sinners so much as the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He divides the parable into 2 Acts. The story of the younger son being Act 1.

This is the familiar part-- the wayward son who squanders his fathers money and winds up in a pig sty longing for the "pods the pigs ate". He decides to go home and beg to be hired as a servant for he knows he is no longer worthy of being called a son. The father sees him from a distance and runs (which Keller points out would be unheard of from a patriarch) to meet his son and lavishes him with love and clothing. He doesn't let the son grovel as the son had rehearsed. He accepts him back into the family as an heir with no explanation or frets on part of the son. This is where most people read the climax, but ah, Keller points out that it is not.

The second act consists of the elder brother. The elder brother, with as much disdain for his father as the first son had in asking for his share of the inheritance, refuses to join the feast. This makes a mockery of the father in front of the whole community who would be feasting with them. This son stands by his obedience and years of faithful service, and tells his father off more or less. The story shows the father, lovingly pleading for this law abiding son to accept that his brother is alive and asks him to join the party. This son was in as bad of a situation as the one the younger son had found himself, but the younger son recognized his pit; the elder son does not.

Keller points out that the story is about two ways to be separated from God. Both are ways of showing disdain for the Father. As he states, "There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and the other is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good (when I find the page # I quoted from, I'll add it)." The story shows how the younger son came to realize his need for the Father and was accepted into the feast, but the elder son out of spite never made it into the feast. Jesus left us wondering here. Did the elder brother ever realize that what he thought was making him worthy of a feast-- his deeds and obedience, were not, but the Fathers love for him was? Keller writes (and I must quote this whole paragraph)

"Elder brothers base their self images on being hardworking, or moral, or members of an elite clan, or extremely smart and savvy. This inevitably leads to feeling superior to those who don't have the same qualities. In fact, competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance. Racism and classism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project. This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion. If a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile. Their self-righteousness hides under the claim that they are only opposing the enemies of God. When you look at the world through those lenses, it becomes easy to justify hate and oppression, all in the name of truth." (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (Dutton, 2008) p 53-54).

Both sons fall short of what the Father desires-- Love Him for Him not for what He has to offer. The first son boldly asks the Father for what He wants, and the second son simply obeys and sticks around waiting for what He can get for being good. Neither brother alone meets the qualifications for heir-- loving the Father unconditionally and being loved by the Father in the same way. The Father loves them yes, but only the younger son comes to the acceptance of this unconditional love. The elder brother believes he deserves the love of the Father and is aghast at the lack of the Fathers reward...

Keller points out that here is where the True Elder Brother, Jesus, comes into the quotient. Jesus, being the perfect Elder Brother would have gone chasing after the younger son for the Father and brought him back no matter how he was found. (Isn't this what He is doing even today?) He would not have argued that He was better than the younger brother (and He was).

Jesus as He walked on Earth seemed to attract the sinners and tax-collectors. They practically swarmed Him. Keller points out, "Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of His day (15)." And if Jesus were in our church as the True Elder Brother instead of a bunch of elder brothers that our churches would be filled with sinners and tax-collectors. Instead we attract the religious type. Keller says, "If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to the younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think (15-16)."

This book puts into perspective what Jesus was teaching and who He was teaching it to. He was teaching the prodigality of the grace that the Father has for both/all His sons. He was teaching the Pharisees and teachers of the law that they were not saving themselves. The sinners knew the message He was giving them, this is why they loved to hear Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers I imagine stood mouths agape after hearing the second part of this story.

This book's subtitle says it all, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.

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