Aired on radio, May 11, 1998. Reprinted with permission from The Voice of Prophecy,
P O Box 55, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Summary: Every ability we have, every talent, is a gift from God. We all need His wisdom in spending these gifts for good and not evil. God longs to forgives our foolish ?spending habits’ and welcomes us back into relationship with Him.
He is so mad he can hardly see straight. This guy is red-in-the-face furious at the whole world. I’m talking about a little guy named Calvin, superhero of the cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Creator Bill Watterston, for a number of years, delightfully captured the thought processes of this wild little boy who had such a vivid imagination that he conjured up a reality tiger, Hobbes, out of a stuffed toy.
But in this particular strip, Calvin is just fuming mad. When bedtime comes, he asks his dad, Why can’t I stay up late? You guys can!
And there’s no answer. It’s not fair! He cries out to the world in general, his screaming mouth filling up the entire cartoon frame.
Well, Dad casually clears his throat and says, The world isn’t fair, Calvin.
The scowling rebel stalks off, shoulders sagging. I know, he admits, still spitting nails in his frustration. But why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?
It’s not fair
If there’s any place in the Bible almost guaranteed to make a person mad, it’s the parables of Jesus. They reek of unfairness! They’re absolutely loaded with undeserved favors: people finding treasures they didn’t earn, bad boys getting to come back home, guys working one hour and getting paid for the whole day. The first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 19:30). If you’re the kind of person who has a built-in sense of fairness and justice, the parables are a collection of stupid stories designed to make you see red.
Morris Venden was so struck by this fact that he wrote an entire book entitled Parables of the Kingdom. In it he comments very openly about the upside-down mentality of God’s kingdom. Here’s what he writes: The kingdom of heaven is on the gift system--the kingdoms of earth are based on merit and on earning your own rewards. The kingdom of heaven offers service for others as the highest privilege--the earthly kingdoms seek service from others as evidence of highest honor. The heavenly kingdom works through the freedom of love--the kingdoms of earth use force to accomplish their goals.
The first line says it all. The kingdom of heaven is on the gift system. Over and over again, these maddening little stories tell us that many, many wide-eyed people are going to get something good--something they don’t deserve. When all the redeemed walk through the pearly gates into heaven, there will be quite a number of thieves on crosses--people who get into heaven at the very last second, who didn’t do a single thing to merit even a hanky, let alone a glorious robe of victory. They don’t deserve a torn and tattered tent, let alone a mansion beyond all imagination. And yet here we are, standing on a sea of glass, when we should be down in a much warmer and more unpleasant climate.
Our little friend Calvin howled out in his anger: Why isn’t it ever unfair in MY favor? In all these stories told by Jesus, the unfairness comes pouring into our own front doors, in our favor every time.
The prodigal father
But the story that has to be the epitome of it all is this one: The Dairy of the Prodigal Father. Oh, I know that in the Bible, it’s the prodigal son. But it was the Dad who was the most prodigal, not the son. This famous, often-told story is found in Luke 15. There’s a dad and there are two sons--the older son, and the famous one who ran off. He’s the prodigal son. And here’s how Jesus tells the story to His spellbound audience: The younger [son] said to his father, ?Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
Now, right away this is very strange. When does a son generally inherit the family ranch? Not until Dad has passed away, of course. So this son, underneath the narrative line, is saying a couple things here. First of all: I can’t wait! And really he’s saying to Dad: I wish you were dead. I don’t like being your son; I don’t like living here; I want out.
Here’s the irony--and of course, this lands on your doorstep and mine. How often do God’s people--the sons and daughters of God--decide they don’t want that relationship any longer? I’m leaving, we say to ourselves. God, You leave me alone, and I’ll leave You alone too. Because I want out of here. And yet with the very same breath, we tell God that we want an inheritance from Him. We want the family fortune: money, good health, prosperity, a college education, a new car, a wardrobe, and all the rest-- FROM GOD. We say to Him: Give me this and this and this and this . . . and then I’m going to leave. And--wonder of wonders--just like in this story, a loving dad goes along with such an incredibly selfish demand. He gives wicked people, rebellious earthlings who want to travel out of His jurisdiction, the family fortune! Have you seen fabulously wealthy people on television, on the evening news, who were very clearly living life separate from their heavenly Father? And yet they were wearing on their bodies the beautiful clothes God blessed them with resources to buy. Every breath they were taking was a gift from God; the beating of their hearts was God’s present to them, an inheritance. And without so much as a thanks a lot, they headed to Beverly Hills and the land of many parties.
And so does this bad boy of Luke 15. This dumb dad gives his boy what he wants: his half of the family fortune. And just a few days later, Son #2 does what he intended: he packs up and leaves. In fact, the Bible describes his departure this way: Not long after that, the younger son GOT TOGETHER ALL HE HAD, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living (Lk 15:13). There’s an understated permanence to this whole expedition, isn’t there? First of all, the math of the real world says this: once you get the inheritance from Pop, that’s it, man. You’ve got it. There’s not more where it came from. You get your share and you leave, and there’s no coming back, because you got your share. That’s the math of our world, isn’t it? And this boy leaves home with that understanding. He’s not just going on a three-day, two-night junket to Vegas for a quick bit of fun. He’s leaving forever. The Bible says: He got together ALL HE HAD.
And right here I notice something very wonderful. A person of this world might very well head off to a far country, determined that they’re through with God. I mean, they are through! And they say so! Father, I'm leaving and I’m not going to be back. Their plane ticket is one-way, and so are their mind-set and the jut of their jaw. But you know, our God holds that return ticket stub in His hand and just doesn’t say anything for quite a long while. The young man gets to the faraway country and proceeds to spend his dad’s fortune in loose living. He quickly blows the entire bundle on booze and babes and blackjack and bubbly burgundy wine. And let’s emphasize the same sober truth again: this is his father’s money he’s spending. Dad gave him some wonderful gifts, and he spent them all.
You know, every time we waste a talent, or drop a dollar where we shouldn’t, do we remember that this was a gift from a loving Father? Right now at this moment, as you listen, you might be a rebel on your own journey. But every ability you’ve got--your earning power, your personality, your skills and talents, your friendships--those are all gifts God gave you. At the moment you may be spending them very badly; the inheritance you were given might be going right into the dealer’s tray at the roulette wheel. God gave you gifts and you wasted them. Shame on you and shame on all of us.
And yet the story doesn’t end right here. In our terms, in our math, it would. You lose your money, you pawn your car, you go broke, and that’s it. But like I said, in these parables of Jesus, everything is upside-down. Where a story would usually end, this one is just getting started. Where normal math would say, You’re busted, mister, this story goes in a whole different direction. That’s what so wonderful about God’s grace.