Did you ever read that story in the Bible about the lost boy who returns to his Father? It’s a famous one.
Yeah, it’s a story Jesus tells – actually it’s the third in a set of three. First he tells of a man who loses one of his lambs and leaves the rest (99 out of 100) to go search for the lost one. When he finds the lamb, he hoists it up on his shoulders and carries it all the way back home where, upon arrival, he throws a party to celebrate. Then he tells of a woman who lost a coin, how she searched and cleaned and searched until she finds it. Then she too throws a party to celebrate once it is found.
Then thirdly, Jesus tells of the lost boy. And in this story, the third in the set is meant to have the real punch. It’s meant to have a rhetorical impact, and so the story gets a little more involved – a little deeper in detail and mood.
It turns out there is this Father who has a wayward son that takes off with the family fortune. The kid very foolishly spends it all on wine, women, and fast livin’. And it doesn’t take long before the kid runs out of money and finds the bill has come due.
Well, this lost boy slips into poverty. He becomes a lowly bum. His lifestyle and finances are totally bankrupt, and he finds himself aimless, lonely, poor, and lost.
He knows he does not deserve any kindness from his Father, but after assessing the situation, he thinks he has nothing to lose by returning home to beg mercy. Expecting his Father to be stern with him, but hoping that even that sternness will be better than the hopeless, homelessness he now endures, the boy risks it and heads back to his Father’s house.
So, the boy heads back for home, back to face his stern Father and endure whatever wrath that may involve so that he can also find some second-rate mercy too.
And then what happens?
Well, of course, this is the third story, the part of the story where the rhetorical impact really unleashes its shockwave. The first two stories told of a lost sheep found and a party, a lost coin found and a party, and now we have a lost boy coming home to his Father. You might expect a party…?
Yeah, so the boy returns to his Father’s house and finds one of the servants tending the door while his Father is away. The servant recognizes that the boy is his own brother! This broken brother is one of the lost sons of the Father/Master, alright, but he also sees plainly that the boy has brought all this misfortune on himself with his wild lifestyle. The brother/servant/door keeper certainly does want to help, but he has read the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, and he doesn’t want to ENABLE (look up that word in your concordance) the kid and do further harm to him.
It turns out that the boy arrives on a cold, rainy, September night, and the servant/brother keeping the door at the Father’s house tells the kid there will be no lodging for him in his Father’s house, but there is a 501c3 organization across town that claims they keep an open door. Of course that is not actually the case either; rather they have a barn they open up during severe cold nights, and the boy can check with them and see if it’s open. If it is, he will be welcome to stay there.
It turns out this open door is not in fact open, neither is the barn, AND the people running the 501c3 are actually gone on vacation to Tahiti sipping drinks with those cute little umbrellas on the beach.
The boy asks where his Father is so that he might speak directly to him – he is supposedly the Master of this house. Right? And the servant/brother tells the boy, “Oh yeah, you will probably catch him down at the fancy new coffee shop that sends all their profits from all the fancy lattes to the 501c3 guy so as to help without hurting. There is a good chance he is there helping you right now by drinking a latte, but if not, he might be at a seminar the owners of the coffee shop and the executive guy from the 501c3 host at the local university where they talk about helping without doing harm and without ENABLING poor choices and bad behavior.”
This is the story Jesus tells. It’s a famous one. Most people are familiar with it already, but it MIGHT be new to you.
Yeah, you might oughta look into this story. You can find it in Luke 15 in your Bible. You might need to know a little Koine Greek so that you can really understand all of that part about the When Helping Hurts stuff, but Wow! What an impact Jesus makes with the rhetorical effect in that third story!!!
Thank God for that 501c3! If it wasn’t for their barn on the other side of the tracks, the Father’s house might have to take a wayward son in on a cold night. That’s where you find Jesus when he gets to Bethlehem too – in the barn! (Luke tells that part too.)