Recently we actually went to the movie theater to see a new movie. This is not something we do often at all, so we were so surprised to find out that nowadays before the movie started we were subjected to at least thirty minutes of previews. As we were about to lose heart that the movie we came to see would ever begin, a trailer played for a new movie about Elvis Presley. He, of course, was a worldwide phenomenon, and certainly had lasting impact on the United States.
I have not seen the movie, and I am not sure whether the filmmaker was trying to say anything definitive about the choices that Elvis made throughout his lifetime, or whether that person was simply telling a life story. But a two minute trailer was enough for me to have some takeaways. I could not help but notice that there were the stereotypical nagging scolds represented in the film, scowling at a young and cool Elvis Presley, warning of the dire consequences should he rebel against their rules. The line delivered was something like, “You had better not wiggle so much as your little finger on that stage.” From just the brief few seconds of that scene in the trailer, you see scowling, scolding, disapproving faces juxtaposed with the seemingly electric, exciting promise of all that Elvis‘s new style of reckless abandon contained.
Sadly, his life story did not end in excitement or promise. I do not personally know anyone in Elvis‘s family, and he died when I was only five years old, so I cannot make any sort of intelligent or helpful commentary on any of them. But decades have passed since the time the real-life scolds gave their real-life warnings to a young Elvis and his whole generation. We are left here to deal with the outcome, which turns out to be nothing new.
Jesus once told a story in response to the religious scolds of His generation who were following Him around and contemptuously muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It never ceases to amaze me how wise and relevant Jesus’ teachings are, though the words we read were spoken over 2000 years ago. In this story, Jesus perfectly captures the two different ways that people go in an attempt to make a way in the world, and it just so happens that the two sons He mentions in His story are just exactly like Elvis and his critics. (I am going to put the whole story down below - it is found in Luke 15, and I hope you will take a moment to read it.)
The first son represents every person who decides that the rules and restrictions are just too much. They either don't take the time to think that their own actions are actually hurting themselves and others, or they just don’t care. Much of the modern generation fits this category, and even advertisers pander to this attitude: Have it Your Way, You Deserve It, If it Feels Good Do It, and so on. Everything in our society is encouraging people to smash the rules, shatter the conventions, and push the limits. It has become so prevalent that we can no longer pretend we do not see the ramifications.
Sin is devastating. We can try to explain in away, and we can try to pretend that there is no such thing as morality, but all around us the evidence says otherwise. We can also pretend that if no one else sees our own sin, then it does not matter. But if you have ever been impacted by the nuclear-grade destruction of sin, whether self-inflicted or caused by someone else’s choices, then you know that Christians, scolding or not, are not making this up. Sin is very real, and it destroys everything it touches.
When a person chooses to follow their own willful desires for a moment or a season or a lifetime, throwing off every thought of anyone or anything else, terrible consequences follow. Sin is costly. It is never free. No one ever gets away with it. Sometimes the price is required now, sometimes accounts will be settled later, but every time a terribly expensive cost is incurred. Broken homes, ruined careers, devastated hearts and lives, crushed spirits: all of these things are the very terrible and very real price tag that accompanies our rebellion.
When any of us is confronted with such a devastating situation, and if we take a second to be honest, something deep within us recognizes that this is our own true spiritual condition. Sometimes we are tempted to throw stones at others who make horrible choices, but what we should do is stop and reflect. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have a sinful nature that desires its own way and its own will, and separates us from God.
So Jesus does not stop with just the person who breaks all the rules. He also takes the time to explore the second son, the one who stays home and keeps every single rule. In fact, this guy is keeping careful score of how well he keeps the rules, and also of how poorly everyone else around him is doing in comparison. Just reading the story, you can picture the person in your mind - grumpy, scowling, angry, and bitter. If he was a modern, he would certainly be an internet troll. Though he lives in the house with the father, he is not happy or satisfied or kind. You get the distinct feeling that he is just waiting for his dad to die so that he can have his inheritance all to himself, not so different from his wayward brother after all.
Both sons represent the two dangers all of us face when we do not keep our own wills submitted to the love and wisdom of God. Giving in to our inherent selfishness can manifest as either a person with no rules at all or a person who thinks the rules are the only thing. But the point of Jesus’ parable is what everyone of us must take time to understand - rules without any relationship just lead to rebellion in our hearts. One person thought the rules were stifling and threw them away, one thought they were a way to be superior to everyone else. Neither realized that they were entirely missing the point.
What can possibly quiet the demands of our strong wills; what can replace our selfish desires on the thrones of our own hearts? Only someone better and far more lovely than anything the world has to offer. Only someone stronger, with infinitely more love and wisdom. And only someone who is strong enough to conquer sin and selfishness. Through His finished work on the cross, Jesus has made a way for us to have peace with God, with ourselves, and with each other. As we trust Jesus as both Savior and Lord, surrendering our wills to Him, we realize that being in close relationship with Him was what we were yearning for all our lives.
The father in Jesus' story provided a safe home and a robust inheritance for each of his children. When one child strayed, the father was waiting and watching for him to return. When the other child was bitter and disgruntled, the father gently reminded him that everything he had was available and always had been. Jesus is telling all of us that the point of life is a relationship with the Father, who eagerly desires to be with each one of us. The rules are just there to keep us safe from ourselves and our proclivity to sin; the point is enjoying a loving relationship with Him, both now and then forever.
In our incredibly divisive and angry age, it would be wise to take a moment to reflect on our own hearts. Are we leaning towards breaking down the barriers and doing whatever our hearts and bodies desire, or are we leaning towards looking with contempt at others who don’t play the game as well as we do? Either way, the remedy is to lean instead into a loving Father who watches and waits for each of us to come back into His loving embrace. Only standing with Him, made complete and whole by His love and grace, can we look rightly on the world around us.
Luke 15: 11-32
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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