So there is this one time where Jesus is talking with some religious leaders about their view of God. They have taken offense at Jesus for the way he is ministering, and more specifically the kinds of people he is ministering to. They are criticizing him for spending time with the “sinners” of their day. And so Jesus tells them a story.
Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve heard this story before. It’s the one about two sons and their dad. And the younger of the two sons goes off and blows his inheritance on the same things that most young men blow their inheritance on. And eventually, after he hits rock bottom, this young man decides to finally come home. And the entire way back he’s working on his apology speech. Because when you’ve blown it as bad as he has, you need to have a pretty impressive apology.
Now you know this story, the Dad runs as soon as he sees him a long way off. Which means the Dad never stopped looking. He doesn’t let him even finish the apology speech before he starts going into party planning mode. They throw a party with music and dancing and roasted calf. And then dad notices that another son has gone prodigal on him.
So, like before, the dad who is always watching out for his boys, goes to him and tries to get him to join the party.
And If we just knew this about God, we would understand how He feels about the Human Condition.
He’s trying to get us all to join the party.
I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the deep need for Christians to live in community with each other. It seems like Christians in the West have such an allergy to all things related to judging, and maybe rightfully so, but we still have this deep need to be able to hold each other accountable and speak the redemptive and hard words into each others lives. And last week, I wrote about one passage in Galatians that seems to be get at the heart of our objections to judging others, but hold on to the heart of what it means to live in God’s community. Here’s what Paul wrote:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else..
For Paul, there is a spiritual danger for both the person being confronted, and for the person who is confronting. Paul knows that it is possible for this to be a gospel moment of healing and restoration. And it’s also possible for someone to use all the right techniques, and to say the right things, but for it to work against the Gospel. And that difference is pride.
If you find yourself comparing yourself to this person that you are wanting to confront, than you, not just the other person, are in real spiritual danger. Because we never compare our weaknesses do we? What we really like to do is to compare our strengths to someone else’s weaknesses. And we can start to believe things about ourselves that are just not true. This is where we become the older brother. We’ve never slept around, or gambled, or had that addiction, We begin to think about how we’ve spent our life slaving. Sure, the younger brother should be welcomed back, but let’s hear out that whole apology speech first. Maybe have him back on a probationary basis or something.
But that’s how parties get missed.
Mark Buchanan points out that this word restore that Paul uses in Galatians 6 is actually a word from the world of music. It’s means “to tune an instrument that is badly out of tune.” This is an instrument capable of playing great and beautiful music.But the problem with tuning is that it takes time. It can not be done quickly, at least not well. So you can dispose of an instrument, but that’s stupid, this is an instrument of great worth. And we might throw away a kazoo, but never a Stradivarius.
I love this metaphor. I think it’s truth in the deepest sense of the word. I play piano and guitar (very badly) and I know exactly what this is like. You can do great damage by roughing up the instrument. You can approach an out of tune guitar with a hammer and it will only make it worse…and permanent. Or you can listen, and patiently and gently turn the strings.
I doubt that there is a single one of us doesn’t know what it’s like to be out of harmony with God and each other. We all know what it’s like to be out of tune. That’s why we need to have people in our lives who can speak into them a word of caution. It’s also why we need to be the kinds of people who can speak a gentle word of correction.
You need skill and patience and above all, a love of music.
You know what’s great about that Prodigal Son story? It’s the word Jesus uses for the Party. When the older son hears the music, you know what word that is? It’s the Greek word Symphonias…It’s the word for Symphony.
How great is that? There is a symphony of grace that is playing just around the corner. And as one person is getting the restoration they don’t deserve, another person is griping about God not giving them what they feel they are owed.
For anyone who is about to confront someone, I think it’s important to remember that in every single instance in the Gospels when Jesus is approached by a religious person and a sinner. The sinner connects to him and the religious person doesn’t. In every single instance.
Because if you are confronting a brother or sister out of a sense of entitlement or pride, chances are you aren’t the right person to talk to them. Chances are you might not understand the Gospel.
The Gospel says that each of us are more loved than we can imagine, and each of us are more broken than we’d care to admit.
The Gospel of Jesus is that the Father never stops looking. He’s looking for us and for any reason to throw a party. He loves to Restore people who have finally come to their senses.
Because he loves us, he loves grace, and he loves music.