He stands outside looking in. He folds his arms over each other, narrows his eyes, and wrinkles up his forehead under his hair dripping wet. He’s been in the field working. All day. He’s tanned and dirty, but nothing can cover up his markings of devotion, yet there he is standing outside hostile and seething.
Inside no one stands. Only frenzy resides there. I imagine those inside with arms extended, eyes wildly alive, while their entire bodies, their senses, immerse themselves in delight bordering on indulgence. One, in particular, disheveled and dirty but clothed in regal robes, looks strangely out of place. Nothing, it would seem, can hide his scarred-over wounds of unfaithfulness, but there he is inside dancing around and delighted.
This is the story of brothers, of sons, of sorrow and scandal and it wraps up a series of tales told by Jesus in Luke 15. One brother is inside, the other out. One is filled with resentment, the other resplendent. Brothers or not, this story has less to do with blood and all the more to do with orienting Jesus’ audience toward the kinship found in this good news – the Kingdom of God has come to all.
It’s hard, when at the end of the story, not to lose sight of the chapter’s opening words,
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
It was this protest – a protest from those who refused to come in – the dissent from those who would not engage the sinner – that prompted this story of brothers in the first place. We focus on so many things when talking about the story of The Lost or Prodigal son that we often neglect to remember Jesus is dining with the lost sons and daughters of Israel while narrating this grand tale. We forget further still that Jesus is acting out this story before the very people cast as those who have worked their entire lives on the Father’s behalf, yet cannot stand to come in to be in the presence of the lost-now-found.
Jesus eats with sinners. That is, Jesus engages with sinners in a deeply intimate social-cultural function. He does not ignore or condemn them in this moment. He does not invite them to church synagogue, nor does he meet them at a coffee house for an informal Bible Torah study. Jesus, instead of asking them to come and find him, presumably has gone to them – into their home – to eat – with sinners in order that he might call them to be saints, or better yet, sons and daughters.
All the while, the “faithful” refuse to enter.
Jesus has not left them unattended. If you believe that the end of the story is told with the beginning in mind, then he does not leave the Pharisees to stand alone, nor does he reason that they should necessarily know better.
He calls the Pharisees in as well.
Jesus has not only pursued the sinner; he has gone to the door’s threshold with outstretched hand and pleaded, as it were, for the saintly son to come in as well.
The irony here is poignant. How could it go unnoticed? Those who have pursued God their entire lives won’t come any closer. Those who have run from God for sometime now won’t leave Jesus’ side.
God pursues us – saint and sinner alike to gather around the same table.
The door is open, the table set, and your seat saved. The only question is, are you in or are you out?