I gave the message this past Sunday at our youth service for the church, and thought that I’d share! It was already typed up as I was organizing my thoughts, so obviously it isn’t word-for-word what I said – but it was pretty close!
I’ve linked the books I mentioned down below at the bottom, as well as in the second paragraph.
The last time Barry (our youth pastor) asked me to do this, I prepared too much. It felt like a speech I gave in the business school, and while I know that God uses my words nonetheless, God asked me this time to trust.
On Thursday afternoon (yes, Thursday), I was taking some books to Half Price Books and “ended up” in the “Christian” section. I stood there and looked around and found a book that was purple called Rediscover Jesus (Goodreads or Amazon). I flipped open to a page speaking about the prodigal son. I then picked up another one – this one by Rob Bell was called Velvet Elvis (Goodreads or Amazon), and I ended up in a section called “Tour Guides.” I like to call these things, “God things,” so I just went with it. So here we go!
If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t know what the word prodigal meant until I was in college. If you’re in that camp, too afraid to ask, here it is:
Prodigal | adjective
1.wastefully or recklessly extravagant (“prodigal”)
Here is a brief summary of the Parable of the Lost Son from Luke chapter 15:
- Two sons, one father
- One son wants to go see the world and have his inheritance now – he doesn’t want to wait
- His father lets him have it
- The son sees the world, parties, etc., and finds friends for all of the wrong reasons, and ends us completely broke
- Son crafts a speech in his head – he wants to beg his father to let him be a servant. He is no longer worthy of being a son after what he has done.
- He makes his way home ashamed, expecting his father to yell at him and instead his father greets him with open arms and wants to throw a party.
- Then we meet brother #2…
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’” (The Holy Bible, Luke 15:25-32).
Think back to the definition of prodigal – wastefully and recklessly extravagant. Brother #2 (the older brother) seems to be almost the exact opposite of this. The thing they both have in common? They’re both greedy.
When looking up the definition of “greedy,” the top three definitions all have the word “desire” in them (“greedy”). When thinking back on various sermons I’ve heard on this topic, or times that I’ve read this story myself, I find myself agreeing with the older brother. He stayed. He worked hard. The story is called “the Parable of the Lost Son,” not “the Parable of the Lost Son and his older brother,” so I didn’t pay much attention to the older one.
But now that I’m a little bit older, I think about how he never took a chance. He got his head down and his hands dirty, but did he ever look up? Was he just jealous? He’s bitter and upset that his brother is back, and wants the recognition of his father. But did he ever ask? Did he take for granted every good and precious gift he had? His brother finally comes home and his first instinct is to think about himself. As the author points out, “when the younger son returned broken, hungry, afraid, demoralized, and repentant, the father embraced him, forgave him, and rejoiced. The older brother did none of those things… Instead, he was full of judgment and self-pity.” Kelly also rightfully says, “He saw only what he was losing, not what he was gaining” (Kelly 147).
What did both brothers desire? To me, they desired happiness, recognition, security, and love – all good things. But they looked in all the wrong places for it. One turned to liquor, drugs, and women, while the other turned to bitterness and hard labor when they really missed the mark. Their father was right in front of them all along.
This reminded me of Jesus and the woman with perfume:
6 “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 You will always have poor people with you. You can help them any time you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body to prepare me to be buried. 9 What I’m about to tell you is true. What she has done will be told anywhere the good news is preached all over the world. It will be told in memory of her” (The Holy Bible, Mark 14:6-9).
The Bible is full of dichotomies – the two brothers being one of them. Jesus uses this parable to show forgiveness, the importance of repentance, and how we can never get too far from God. Man and God (sons and father) are another dichotomy. Kelly writes that “nothing highlights the difference between God’s ways and man’s ways like forgiveness” (Kelly 147). The father’s forgiveness is quick and abundant – he isn’t passive-aggressively commenting about money or throwing in an “I told you so,” because he is too busy with excitement that his lost son is back. He understands that his prodigal son needed to learn this lesson on his own, just as much as his other son did. What if they’re both, the “Lost Son?”
We should be excited that someone else gets to join the party, not that we want to hoard Jesus all to ourselves. If we really knew Jesus, we’d spend time with him and want to bring others alongside us too.
The brothers missed the mark, just as we do. We find a hole in ourselves, and we try to fill it with everything else. We find ourselves boastful of our hard work, we look to others for validation and everything in between. We need only rest.
So that’s where we get to tour guides. As a tour guide in college, Bell’s comparison really resonated with me. If you’ve ever been on a tour of anything, you know that the tour is impacted greatly by the tour guide’s knowledge and passion. I was a good tour guide at TCU, but if you threw me onto the University of Texas’ campus and made me give a tour, I’d have a great difficulty doing so. I would be doing no favors to the University, or the prospective students, or myself.
Bell’s section on “tour guides” was named as such because he presented the idea that instead of being called “missionaries,” we should be “tour guides.” Obviously, the word “mission” is important, but tour guide sounds a bit more realistic to me in a functional sense. We should never see someone as our mission – that is demeaning to the person and creates superiority complex. Let me clarify: I’m on mission, and Jesus has called me to be missional. But tour guide looks more realistic to how we are to be on mission. Working alongside people. Working with them. Helping them. Not merely talking at them. Not leaving when things get rough or awkward because there is an end goal. A tour guide is passionate and knowledgeable and wants to shepherd the people who get put in their path. They know that their path is exactly where they need to be – they don’t need to go overseas to be missional. It isn’t a perfect analogy, but it works for me. (Bell 88)
Bell equates being a tour guide to either “having good eyesight,” or “teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn’t realize it.” They “see God where others don’t. And then [they] point Him out” (Bell 91). If you see God working moving in something, say it outloud. I’ve told the story a million times about my friend Kelsey who always says, “Praise God,” when something good happens instead of something like, “how cool!” Speak up. Make notice of the good gifts God has given you. Both brothers took everything they had for granted. Being a missionary doesn’t mean that you’re “taking Jesus” anywhere – He’s taking you somewhere. Jesus is already there. (Bell 88)
Tour guides also tell good stories. They don’t even need to be your stories to connect to others (Bell 89). For example, if I was giving a tour to a prospective student coming to hopefully study physical therapy I would tell them about my roommate Eliesa and my friend Sarah who loved the program. I wouldn’t pretend that the business school is, “basically the same thing,” or furthermore try to convince them to switch their major to mine. I would connect with them as best as I could. We all have different stories to tell. If I don’t know Jesus, how can I speak about him? How can I find his qualities and character all around me? Are you like the sons who grew up with their father but never really knew him?
Do your best to have that good eyesight Bell was speaking of, and recognize the God-given things around you. We all benefit from it. We’re all telling the same story here, just from different perspectives. The direction we point to, however, is infinite in its wonder and majesty. As the father points out to his older son, and Jesus to the woman with perfume, we need to celebrate all victories – big and small. The father still threw the party and tried to convince his son to come despite his attitude.
This is where I think about greed again. I can definitely be greedy. But my hope is that we can all be a bit more greedy with the good things. Greedy for God, for friends and family, for a community, for things that bring us joy, for things that matter.
I also pray that we learn more about the heart of God each day. Both brothers grew up with their father, but did they really know him (or want to)? One brother couldn’t wait to leave, and thought that he would be berated when he got home because he had lost his father’s love. As scared as the prodigal son would have been to come back home, he was brave in doing so – he even has a little speech prepared for his dad: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15: 18-19).The other tried to earn his fathers love in all the wrong ways when he already had it. We cannot earn God’s love, or lose it for that matter. He pursues us better than we ever could, but I hope that we can be encouraged to try to pursue him back.
TWO BOOKS MENTIONED: