Miscalculating Grace

By: William D. Shiell

A great story can become a mirror for us to reflect on our own condition. Just read aloud Jesus’ famous Parable of the Father with Two Sons in Luke 15:11-31. Both siblings are lost at home. The younger one requests immediate rights to his inheritance. It literally takes the “life” out of the Father. The prodigal wants what he thinks he deserves now.

The elder brother is lost in his resume. He’s working to build a career in the fields, dutifully obeying what he thinks his Father wants from him.

Both of them suffer the consequences of their decision. The younger moves to a far country and lives recklessly, the older remains in the fields full of resentment. Both of them think work will solve their problems. The younger one attempts to hire himself out, only to find himself in a famine among the pigs. He then wants to return home and to get a job with the servants. The older brother wants to keep working hard to show the Father why Dad shouldn’t have celebrated the return of the younger one.

Both sons miscalculate grace. The Father says, “Everything I have is yours.” We don’t have to grab the inheritance or work a little harder. God offers grace that can’t be measured by how much we’ve squandered or how well we’ve succeeded. God loves us today and always will. This kind of grace doesn’t excuse the consequences of our decisions. Life has a way of taking care of the results of misbehavior. God’s grace awaits our return and runs out to us in the field.

On the journey of conversion, Jesus reveals that we are in a constant battle between the far country and the fields, between the prodigal child and the elder one. Our condition is a state of “Lost-Foundness.” When God looks for us and finds us, we think there has to be more to it. We wander, drift, and work our way back into the dark shadows of both sons.

The only way home is the continual surrender of our need for rights and the temptation to live recklessly. We can’t control what was never ours to begin with. Instead, we rejoice that God loves to find lost people. We joyfully obey and serve because the Father has, once again, made us alive.

What would church be like if we understood that everyone we see struggles with life  in the far country and the field? Could we take on the posture of a loving God with arms outstretched, inviting people to a party? This is the kind of church willing to lay down their lives for prodigals and elders who will one day be coming home.
 

June 28, 2016

William D. Shiell

President, and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William



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