The Pharisee

Every year, in our Church’s Passion Play, I play a Pharisee. Mostly because I haven’t got a lot of time to memorize lines and I guess I’m naturally pious and religious looking. There is one thing about the Pharisees that strikes me… they think they’re right. It’s an awful position to be in when one thinks that he is right. It is a position that must at some point be dethroned. In some manner we all must be Pharisees at some point, standing before God asserting that we are right in the face of His perfection.
Anyhow, every year I am drawn back to the three parables in Luke 15. They are perhaps the most well known parables in Christianity: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son. Take note, the Pharisees are the ones who inspire this system of parables in verse 2. They see Jesus hanging out with people who are wrong and say, “we are right!” Jesus then, the crowd captivated, launches into this famous series of stories. The first and second are easy enough to understand: God rejoices over a repentant sinner more than we rejoice over our possessions (and that’s a lot of rejoicing! I mean, for real, how many of us are geeking out over an iPad or the latest iPhone? Or if you’re me, the new ancient text your mother in law found at some thrift store… I know, I have no right to laugh at all you techno guys. Anyway, what were we talking, oh yeah… ) The third is a bit different.
We’ve always taken the prodigal son to be about just that, the prodigal son… and indeed, in some ways it is. However, the story actually climaxes with the older brother. He stands outside the feast pouting and the father comes out to him. He heard of his brother’s return while he was working in the field and is not pleased that his father has decided to throw the biggest party the city has seen for this no good lousy brother of his! You can imagine his posture, right!? He is near tears from anger, like you were when you were a child and your mom has just shattered your world by telling you that you must give the toy back to your sister who took it from you in the first place! He has that look, you know, watery eyes, confused anger, attempting to maintain respect and composure for someone you feel so much contempt for. Hands shaking as he paces on the porch, lining out what he is going to say to his father for this impertinent behavior. As the father comes out, the confrontation ensues.
Verse 28 presents the confrontation in a very different light. From the perspective of the older son, it is a battle for justice, the integrity of the family name is at stake, equity between brothers must be instated! But from the father’s perspective, the older son is missing out on the joy of the father. So, the father entreats, or pleads, with his eldest boy to join the feast. But the eldest son is right! So he will stand for justice and he gives his answer in verses 29-30! The reality is that his answer is incredibly selfish. We can imagine how that feels. You know, its like when we say something that sounded so right in our head and comes out sounding so absolutely wrong. At that point we are stuck with a choice, do we hold fiercely to our selfishness, shaking in anger, attempting desperately to hold back the flood of tears? After all we were right in our heads just a moment ago! Or do we silently hang our head in shame, let the tears come, and ask forgiveness?
The father’s answer is profound. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You can almost imagine Jesus looking past the captivated crowds to see the eyes of the Pharisees in that line. Their eyes watery at the apparent rejection of their father through Jesus, their fists clinched in anger at his forgiveness of the sinners, their knees week and stomach in knots at this confrontation. He catches their eyes with his own and says, “Son…,” He goes one to explain that they are invited to the feast and should rejoice with the father!
The catch is whether or not the older son goes in… we don’t know. Does he insist that he is right, or does he submit to the father and go in? What about you?

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