A startling phrase in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is, “When he came to his senses…” (Luke 15:17). Jesus was/is letting His hearers know that the younger brother – the one who went nuts spending his daddy’s money – finally came to himself. He began to pay attention. He began to consider reality. He began to take a look at what was actually going on. He started listening to his heart. “He came to his senses” means he started to wake up.
We never get the sense, however, the older brother ever came to his senses. He never stopped to pay attention. He never paused to evaluate. He never was silent long enough to listen. In the story, the older brother never comes to himself. He never woke up. He never asked his heart, “Why?”
“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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30)
You can feel the vitriol. His words express his heart. He is self-righteous: “I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” He is jealous: “But when this son of yours. . . You kill the fattened calf for him!” He is full of self-pity: “You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” He never once stopped long enough to ask himself why he is working so hard not to disobey his father’s orders. He never queried his heart wondering why, really why, he was so jealous of his younger brother. He never did the difficult, but necessary work of asking why he constantly heaped pity on himself and his situation. All of it was there. All of it was evident and in bright, LED lights. But he never saw it. He never considered. He never paused long enough to pay attention.
He never came to his senses.
I started attending church 9 months before I was born. I know nothing but church and churched people. Later this year, I will be able to say I have pastored churches for 20 years. More than I care to admit, in myself and in so many I pastor, I see the older brother. Not the younger one who is enjoying the feast with the father. Nope. The other brother. The one on the outside looking in. The one smelling the filet and hearing the music. The one sulking outside like a pitiful three year old.
Why are so many of us church people like this? The list is long. But I sincerely believe a big reason is we never come to our senses. We never stop to listen to ourselves. We never consider the reality of our situation and circumstances. We never wake up. We never pay attention. We never listen to our hearts. We never pause to let the Spirit deal with our spirit. I wonder what would happen if we simply stopped, listened, and asked ourselves “why?”
- Why, really, do I get so angry when I don’t hear my favorite music?
- Why, really, do I get so angry when someone else is chosen for the testimony?
- Why, really, do I not like it when my group decides to focus its attention on something new?
- Why, really, am I so attached to the look and feel of the sanctuary?
- Why, really, am I not going back yet to worship “in person” on Sunday mornings?
- Why, really, am I so unwilling to share the extravagant love of God with someone who doesn’t yet know about Him?
- Why, really, did my spouse make me so angry this morning?
- Why, really, does the mask mandate make me so angry? Or, why do get so mad when someone isn’t wearing one?
- Why, really, did I find myself yelling at my children last night?
- Why, really, did I immerse myself in inappropriate images last week?
- Why, really, do I have such a difficult time praying?
- Why, really, am I not into the whole “read the Bible” thing?
- Why, really, am I so timid about joining a group?
To be sure, this work isn’t easy. It is more convenient to shove it all down and move on. But it keeps us on the outside looking in. Asking “why?” to our words and motives and intentions and actions is difficult. But it’s the only way to come to our senses.
What do you need to be paying attention to today?