Every comedy featuring kids facing off against some adult villain has a moment when the adult gets it somehow. Perhaps the most famous is the original Home Alone. The Sticky Bandits, Harry and Marv, hilariously work through Kevin’s house of horrors getting hit in the head with irons, paint cans, stepping on upended nails, glass ornaments, getting glued and feathered, having their heads and hands burnt, and finally getting whacked with a snow shovel before they are finally arrested. That’s called justice, and if we pursue a path of evil-hearted foolishness like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal son, we will eventually experience that moment ourselves.
And so begins one of Jesus’ most enduringly beloved parables. The parable of the prodigal son has loomed large in the mental history of the world ever since Jesus told it. The idea resonates with some of the deepest desires of our heart—to receive forgiveness when we have sinned, to be restored when we have blown it, to be reconciled when we have broken a relationship. Because of its power in our cultural imagination, it is worth at least a bit of our time.
This past Sunday we kicked off a brand new teaching series called Finding Meaning. For the next few weeks we are going to walk through some highlights of the collection of wisdom in the Hebrew Bible we call Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, the wisest man who ever lived records some personal thoughts on his own efforts to find meaning in life. Through his reflections we can learn a great deal about where to find it in our own. First, though, we need a foundation from which to build this structure of ideas. That’s what we did yesterday. If we are going to find real meaning in our lives, where do we start building? Keep reading to find out.
When Life Feels Empty
So…the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Again. I’ll just say: They’re really good. More specifically, Tom Brady is really good. Bill Belichik is really good. They managed to bring just what they needed to beat every opponent they faced in the playoffs. Every time. Now, the result was the most boring Super Bowl game ever, but I’ll bet you didn’t hear any complaints to that effect in the locker room after the game. A Super Bowl win is a Super Bowl win even if it’s boring. The thing that drives so many folks crazy about the Patriots isn’t just that they are really good. The Los Angeles Rams and even my Kansas City Chiefs were really good this season and they didn’t drive anybody crazy. The same goes with the New Orleans Saints. No, the thing that gets under the skin of so many folks is that they’ve been good for so long. This was the sixth win for Patriots and their ninth Super Bowl appearance just in the last 19 years. In other words, they’ve been to the Super Bowl basically every other season for the whole of this millennium.
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This was a powerful moment. It was powerful in a couple of ways. Spiritually speaking, this was a powerful affirmation of Jesus’ identity before the people. Many, many people had been baptized that day and this hadn’t happened to any of them. It was also powerful personally. Jesus got a message from His Father affirming His identity. The spiritual side of the experience may have been important to the people around Him, but the personal affirmation would have meant the most to Him. There’s just something about hearing our parent—especially our dad—affirm who we are that means the world.
“But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
The favor of the Lord is a wonderful thing. After all, He’s the creator of the world and everything in it. If He takes a special interest in your success, there’s no way you can possibly fail. The favor of the Lord is better than pulling the winning lottery numbers. Twice. But, what exactly does the favor of the Lord look like? We’d like to think it’s all butterflies and rainbows, but Joseph’s story rips that theory to pieces.