A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son #8

3.2 The Brother: The Kind of "Righteousness" that Refuses Those Seeking Righteousness (Luke 15:11-32)

Everyone wants a second chance, but not everyone is willing to grant a second chance. How often people decide to seek righteousness after unrighteous living has failed; and for those who finally decide to seek after the things that will not perish, there will be those who will not find such repentance to be good news, particularly when the sins of the penitent one are so egregious.

Many righteous people are more than willing to welcome sinners as long as they are their brand of sinners. They are happy to extend their hand to little white liars; after all, they have lied a time or two themselves, perhaps on their taxes, maybe in conversation. They are more than happy to fellowship with gossips; for who hasn't talked about someone in that way? They are more than willing to associate with people who have said unkind things; is it not true that everyone says mean things, particularly when one is having a bad day?

But what about the person who has Sinned with a capital "S"? What about the person who has disgraced his parents? What about the person who has been sexually immoral? What about the adulterer? What about the person who has bilked the elderly out of their "nest eggs"? What about the sinners who sin more boldly than many others can ever imagine?

The issue here is not that sin should be taken lightly. Sin is never a trivial matter. It cannot be says, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for it is sin that cost the very life of God's Son. Repentance is necessary for forgiveness; the younger son's return home was indeed the necessary act of repentance he needed to make. But the older brother in his own righteous way of life (and it indeed was righteous) refused to extend forgiveness. His righteousness had become self-righteousness. Perhaps the older brother could not extend the kind of amazing grace his father had because he had not experienced such grace. Maybe he had experienced it, but credited it to himself and his upstanding way of life. Perhaps he had forgotten the fact that there is grace in the very possibility of a second chance.

Years ago I experienced a situation where an individual refused to extend grace and forgiveness to someone because his particular sin was so scandalous, only to discover some months later that repentance from his own immoral behavior required the very grace and forgiveness he had declined to give.

The sin of the younger son was extreme to be sure. It had cost him and his family much; but in the long run, a self-righteous attitude that refuses those who are finally seeking righteousness will only be more costly. In worrying about his lack of reward for being faithful, the brother could not participate in the happiness of his father who had forgotten himself and forgave all his younger son had done to him. Self-righteousness is also self-centeredness.

"There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than in ninety-nine who need no repentance," so says Jesus. If the older brother is going to enjoy the blessings of heaven, he had better start rejoicing over repentant sinners in the here and now. After all, this life is simply dress-rehearsal for eternity.

Sin is costly. Repentance is necessary for forgiveness. The second chance is a reality for all of us. God's grace is truly amazing!

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