Do you have one of these in your house? The person who keeps track of who got how many pieces of candy, who had how much computer time, who got in trouble for what stuff and who didn’t, and basically anything else that can be tracked. Including who got an extra 1/16 of a teaspoon of chocolate on their ice cream.
I have several. And it makes me mildly nutty. Score keeping has given birth to one of the best lines of parenting in history.
“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”
In our house it gave birth to the line, “His/Her wrong does not make your wrong right.”
Scorekeepers don’t let go of the past very well. They remember every missed opportunity, every failure, every mistake, ever perceived injustice and the clutch it close like a dear treasure. Some of my scorekeepers can dredge up issues from weeks, even months past and slop them into our present.
Luke 15:11-32 lays out the story of the Prodigal Son which I’m pretty sure we all know rather well. There are three characters in this story: Prodigal, Brother, and Father.
Prodigal starts out as a scorekeeper.
But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as on of your hired men.’ “
Prodigal compares his score and the servants’ score. And he understands that he is losing.
Then you have Brother.
But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured you wealth with prostitutes you killed the fattened calf for him.”
Brother compares his score with Prodigal’s. And he thinks he SHOULD be winning but feels like he is losing.
Now in the middle there is Father. After Prodigal comes home and recites his practiced speech, Father forgives.
But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mind was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate.
We don’t get to see Prodigal’s response, but I don’t think he argued with Father. He didn’t refuse the forgiveness offered. He didn’t accept the forgiveness but refuse the party. He stopped keeping score on the spot.
Father talks to Brother as well.
V. 31 & 32
And he said to him, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live and was lost and has been found.”
Again we don’t get to see Brother’s response, but for some reason I don’t picture him shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Aw shucks. You’re right Pop. Let’s party!” I always feel like he probably skulked off and pouted somewhere. He just added one to Prodigal’s score and kept himself in the loser column. Maybe because that’s what I would have done.
I know we always feel like we can connect with Prodigal because we mess up and we need to return and beg forgiveness of the Father of Heaven. But do we always follow the rest of Prodigal’s example? Do we accept that forgiveness and leave the past behind? There’s a difference between a testimony from our past and wearing our past as some badge of dishonor. “Look at how messed up I was. Look at everything I have overcome to be the awesome mess I still am.” If we have truly accepted our forgiveness, it’s time to leave the past behind and rejoice in our restored position. Should we share our testimony? In context with those who may find themselves in a similar situation, absolutely. With everyone we come across? Maybe not so much. Maybe it’s time to let the Father wipe that score off the board.
But many times I think we find ourselves in Brother’s position as well. “Not fair God! Why are they getting away with it and I’m not? They messed up royally! Why are they being celebrated and I’m still trudging away here? How dare you forgive them and make some grand move in their life?” If the Father has chosen to forgive, who are we to pout at the party? Shouldn’t we be just as willing to wipe the scoreboard?
What if the Father HAD given him a goat every year to celebrate? Would he have been more willing to offer the fattened calf on Prodigal’s behalf? The Father provides us daily forgiveness for even the “small” sins in our lives, so why would we begrudge a spiritual sibling who has a “bigger” redemption?
Let’s face it. The part of the story that we don’t like is that The Father doesn’t keep score at all! He simply doesn’t care if He is forgiving a fib or a scandalous deception. He doesn’t care if He is forgiving a hateful word or a murder.
He simply wants to forgive. He simply wants to clear the scoreboard. For everyone. The Father just wants to have a party and wants no one to be left out. That leaves us with a choice – Prodigal or Brother? Which team would our score sit with?