On Sunday we are going to be looking at a super well-known teaching of Jesus but not some of its well-known implications. The teaching is the teaching of the Prodigal Son. So many people are familiar with this amazing story and teaching. But what most people, especially Christians, aren’t familiar with is some of the startling teaching that’s within it.
The startling teaching is this: that keeping all the rules can actually keep you from God.
That’s right, that following all the rules, obeying all of God’s commandments, can actually, in some circumstances, distance you from God. The reality is that not only does the prodigal son need forgiveness and acceptance by the Father in the story; but so too does the older righteous brother. Both sons in the story are lost and on Sunday we’ll discover how the one son is lost by breaking the rules, and the other is lost by keeping them.
This is a hugely important topic for us to reflect on, because it is easy to see how we create distance between God and us when we break the rules. It is really difficult for us to see how we create distance between God and us by how we follow the rules.
So on Sunday that’s where we’re going. And I know initially this idea, that keeping the rules can keep you from God might seem startling or even shocking – but it is true. Simply look at the Gospels and see that the people who kept the rules the best, (the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law) were often furthest from Jesus.
So the question is: how can keeping the rules get in the way of following God?
It’s worth thinking about and reflecting on before Sunday. Because if there is any distance between us and God, either by following or breaking the rules, we want to acknowledge it and close it.
Because one thing is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: it’s best to be inside the party with the Father.