The Death Wish by Rick Burdette
THE DEATH WISH
Luke 15: 11-12
Have you ever wanted someone to die?
I have! I remember my father’s battle with cancer…it had ravaged his entire body…He only weighed 135 pounds when it began, but after battling it for a year…the last six months being the worst…he probably tipped the scale at 90….the chemotherapy….the I.V.’s all the surgeries…At 80 my Dad’s earthly body had wasted away…he was finishing the race…and I’m not ashamed to say that in those last 2 weeks I wanted my father to die…
I know Jesus was his Savior…had been since his early teens and reaffirmed through his recovery after losing a leg in world War II. He was ready, Mom was ready, my brother and sister and I were ready…and we were praying for the Lord to take him home…I didn’t want him to die because I hated him, or because I couldn’t wait to get my inheritance, I wanted him to die because home was better than here.
Our text starts our: “There was a man who had two sons.” This story is almost always referred to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”.
But it’s not just the prodigal that’s emphasized in the story…as the story opens all three major players in the story are mentioned…the father, the younger son, and the older son…maybe a better name for the parable would be “The Compassionate Father and the Two Lost Sons”
The story captures the interaction and the relationship between all three of these individuals…the older son is clearly as important in the story as the younger brother.
In fact the climax of the story occurs in the courtyard at the end. The father is pleading with His oldest son…this sons anger at his father and his younger brother at the end isn’t window dressing..its absolutely essential to the entire parable.
As we look at this story through middle Eastern eyes…there are key factors that emerge…we’ll continue to examine them as we proceed…verse 1. records.
“The younger one said to his father, “Father give me my share of the estate “So, he divided his property between them.”
Such a request meant only one thing in this society… “The younger son is impatient for his father to die.”
It is unthinkable in middle Eastern culture for any son to request his portion of the family wealth while his father is still alive. Every middle Eastern peasant..in every village understands this instinctively.
This request would never be made…if it were made the father would get very angry and refuse Why? This request means he wants his father to die!”
Not because of cancer…but only out of selfish disrespect for a system in place from Abraham till now. All across the Middle East from Algeria to Iran, from the Sudan to Syria–hold in highest regard the Father’s oversight of the household until his death…at that time he gave his blessings along with his inheritance.
With this truth in mind lets examine what this verse tells us about all three principal characters in the story..beginning with
I THE YOUNGER SON
His request, “Father, give my share of the estate.”
Even this request is a form of mutiny….He uses a long word phrase…the direct natural request would be “I want my inheritance” In Eastern languages this request is two words. Instead he uses 6 words…literally “Give me the share of property that falls to me.”
Why does he want his fathers wealth, but not his inheritance.
Because prodigals always want privilege without responsibility.
In Middle Eastern culture if you accept your inheritance you also accept the responsibility of your families oversight…The oldest carries a double blessing and responsibility, but every son who receives an inheritance stays connected to the clan…administers property for the entire family’s benefit…serves as leader over weddings, funerals and feasts…..He pledges himself to build the house of his father…when you hear the words “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”…that tradition is being carried on (By the way…Jacob wasn’t the oldest son).
The inheritance is usually going to be in property….Land, etc….for a middle Eastern peasant family…Land, family, clan were all one and the same. It bound them together…A man’s security in the Village was his family. His family is more precious than life itself…his family is his social security, his insurance, his physical and emotional well being…in short it’s his substance…his everything.
In this culture its a man’s roots—His foundation…who are you is answered…”I’m from the House
of David”…”I’m a member of the tribe of Benjamin”.
The younger son rejects it all…he does not break the law…He breaks all relationships and His father’s heart….He cares only for himself and sacrifices the family. He doesn’t care if others suffer so long as he gets what he demands….1/3 of the family’s security will be sold so he can play…there’s no gratitude, no partnership with his father or brother.
And the younger son is totally responsible…but the sheep wandered, the coin is inanimate…but this son chooses deliberately to wound his father’s heart and breaks all relationships with the family.
But what about….
II THE OLDER SON
From the opening of the story a number of things are evident about him.
He certainly knows what’s going on…In a village community everything is known by everyone.. If he doesn’t know every detail he will by sundown…and when his brother starts to sell off property..all double is removed…his brother has been given his share.
Ecclesiastes reflect this kin of world.
“Do not revile the King even in your thoughts or curse the rich in your bedroom because a bird of the air, may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.” (Ecc. 10:20)
There are no secrets in a small town…or in a middle Eastern village.
In this culture when there is a quarrel the two parties never make up directly… to do so someone would have to lose face and the unthinkable….The process of reconciliation requires a 3rd party called “the mediator”….In this situation, in this culture everyone will affirm the mediator would have been the older brother….its his role to accept or reject.
But in our story…He remains silent…maybe he doesn’t want reconciliation…but its a clear indication of his broken relationship with his father.
When a father dies the older brother in this culture receives the lion’s share of the inheritance and he assumes responsibility for the family…but this brother wants nothing to do with the responsibility of reconciling the brokenness in his family.
His attitude shows that he loves neither his father or his brother enough to try to mend the fracture. It’s an attitude of arrogance….possible that’s why the younger one wants out so badly…we can’t know for sure.
And what can be said of
III THE FATHER
By granting the request of the youngest son he did what no father is ever going to do. The expected reaction is refusal and punishment. Even know that his son wishes him dead…this father grants freedom even to turn way from him. William Temple has said, “God grants us freedom, even to reject His Love!”
But even more importantly, the father remains the father. He will no severe the relationship with his son. This relationship is broken because of the son’s act, but the father still holds onto his end of the rope…hoping against hope that the relationship will one day be restored.
By doing this He suffers. If the father had disowned the son there would be no possibility of reconciliation…it’s the fathers suffering…his broken heart that provides the possibility for the son’s return, his love will not let go.
All of this let’s us know Jesus has not used a orientail patriarch as a model for God. He breaks all the rules of Middle Eastern culture to present this picture of a father who alone should shape our image of God as our heavenly father.
Sharing this view of God the Father to the Scribes and Pharisees would be very much like me sharing skin color doesn’t matter at a Nazi Skinhead convention… it would not make any sense or be accepted at all!
But Jesus wasn’t concerned about their view of God…He knew the father…He and the Father are one…before the beginning of time Jesus was with God and was God. The picture He draws of the father in this parable is perfect…because He is that picture in the flesh!
All three actors in our drama reveal their own character from the very start. We know the younger son by what he asks, the father by what he does, and the older brother b y what he does not do.
Out text says “So he divided his property between them” THEM The older son receives his share at this time too. The father is clearly still in authority…yet each son is assigned his share of the family property…this is crucial for us to understand the older brothers reaction at the end of the story.
He feels like he’s earned his inheritance. It’s a payment for his years of service and that attitude has destroyed his love for his father and his brother.
[Kari has a cousin who is fighting cancer and losing the battle…She has been amazingly courageous and open through this journey. But she’s had to have help as well…People who have come into her home…loved her and cared for her, but there have been difficulties as well…One day she noticed little stickers on some of her possessions…and she asked on the ladies that were caring for her what they were and the woman said, “Those are the things I want after your gone”]
The oldest brother had put his stickers on the fathers estate…He hated his brother for taking what he thought belonged to him…and his father for giving it to him…
The youngest brother wanted privilege with no responsibility…and both sacrificed a loving relationship with a compassionate father with a death wish.
Do you see yourself in the story…all of us are there…I just thank God he never let’s go of His end of the rope.