Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

I’ve missed you! The challenge of writing for a full-time job is that it can relegate recreational writing to a distant backseat. But I want to keep coming back to this intersection, because I find that when I’m away from it, my capacity to carve out space for reflection and find spiritual breathing room suffers, too. That you sometimes show up is another incentive to keep writing…

The New York Times bestseller, The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller, has been bedtime reading lately. Keller, who pastors the 6,000-membered Redeemer Presbyterian Church and has planted churches all around the world, starting in New York City, rightly points out that the parable typically called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” really should be called “The Parable of Two Lost Sons,” and that the story is ultimately about a prodigal God, One who recklessly, lavishly, and without regard to Self, loves both sons until it hurts. If you’ve not read the book, I highly recommend it.

But what intrigues me most in reading the story again through Keller’s eyes is the uncertain fate of the older son. The older son’s angry self-righteousness not only causes him to miss out on the life of the party, but is the very thing that condemns him; and the story ends leaving no real indication as to whether he will swallow his pride and come in to the party—or, stand outside with clenched teeth, letting the steel bars of the cage he has erected for himself become his all-consuming Reality.

It would seem, though, from the story’s ending, that the harsher judgment here is reserved for the older son who is estranged from the father by his own goodness, self-gratification and blindness. Whereas the younger son is able to apprehend his separation from the father and return from that “far country,” the older son cannot: he has convinced himself that he really is undeserving of God’s grace, by virtue of the morally upright life he has zealously cultivated all these years.

The inspiration to so many of those wonderful Flannery O’Connor short stories is felt here. So is a prophetic utterance for the church today.