Siblings are excellent score-keepers. Just yesterday, when I was about to take my oldest daughter on an errand with me her younger sister remarked that the oldest had gone on an errand with me by herself last week. Siblings have a knack for this type of reckoning. Filing events and recalling them later are fundamental to this score-keeping mindset.
You are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. It is an astonishing picture of God’s forgiving grace. I must ask if you have ever read the ending closely? If not, then take a moment and do so. At the close of this parable in verses 25-32 a different, striking lesson emerges: Score-keepers are in abundance, and ready at all times.
As you recall, the parable rises with the prodigal’s return from — as one translation renders it — “riotous living.” Imagine yourself touring with Hank Williams Jr. for a year or two in the mid 1980s — whiskey-bent and swine-trough-bound — and that will chronicle what the son was returning from and repenting of. His father accepts him and the parable closes with a feast. It’s not over. At the edge of the frame you see the older brother wiping his brow as he strides home from a day of toil on his father’s ranch. He hears the commotion and calls one of the servants to see why there is music, dancing, and barbecue. The servant tells him that it is a homecoming party for his younger brother — now flat broke, friendless, and ready to sign up as a servant in his father’s house.
The story turns dark, as in the dark shades of anger and envy (Those two emotions never wear light colors, even in the summer months.). Older brother refuses to go to the celebration. Instead, he pouts, and fumes. Does that sound like any siblings you know, or any that currently eat at your dinner table?
So, the father comes out and “entreats” Lemon-Heart (he has this nickname because first century stories and early manuscripts of the book of Luke claim that he was breast fed with a lemon…nah, just kidding, but you know the type) to come into the party. Then, it gets interesting, and insightful. The words that Jesus weaves into verses 28-30 provide for us an electron-microscope-level of insight into the human heart.
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
You can certainly feel the anger, and self-righteous indignation in those verses. Let’s lift a few phrases out of them to simplify, and concentrate it. “I have served you…I never disobeyed…yet you never gave me…and this son of yours…” Now that is hard-heartedness! No rejoicing over his brother’s return; just anger over it, and perhaps over not being in the spotlight as he had been while his brother had been out chasing women of ill repute. Hard-hearted and sharp-tongued. As an aside, would a feast of a young goat have made Lemon-Heart happy? Certainly not. He can’t be happy because he is a self-consumed scorekeeper. Scorekeepers are never happy, the only reprieve from their internal misery is enjoying the stumblings and failures of those around them.
What does this have to do with the “one another” principles that we are going to explore in the upcoming posts? It has everything to do with them in that it is the precise opposite of all of them. I can’t think of a better way for us to see what the “one anothers” are than by seeing what they are not.
Back to Luke 15, Lemon-Heart found out that his father loved him and still had a sizable inheritance in trust for him, despite Lemon-Heart’s septic tank attitude. In his self-pitying fit — “Hey, I am the victim here!”– ole LH had mourned a financial loss that wasn’t his own and nurtured a grudge that was entirely his. Score-keeping in its professional form. Lemon-Heart had the makings of a good Pharisee, maybe that was part of the point. Hmmm…
Do you have the same tendencies? Before you rush toward an answer of self-justification let’s jot a few questions up on the chalkboard that will guide you toward an honest answer:
1. Are you genuinely pleased when other believers receive good or have success? Think hard, and specifically. Take your time, really.
2. Are you genuinely happy when other believers receive good when they have done good and “earned” it? Be careful with this one.
3. Are you genuinely content when other believers, particularly those who you aren’t very fond of, receive good or have success when they do not seem to “deserve” it? That one points out a works-based heart/mind quickly, and leaves a bruise.
If you answered “yes” to number one, then you are on good ground for living out the “one anothers.” If you answered “yes” to number two then you may have the right spiritual attitude, or have a works-based mindset, it’s hard to distinguish with just one question. If you answered “yes” to number three then you will do well with the “one anothers” and seem to grasp the basics of grace.
If you answered “no” to all three, then we know what you were nursed on as an infant, and you immediately qualify for advanced placement at the Pharisee Institute of Religiosity.
Siblings may be good score-keepers and grudge-tenders, but spiritual siblings — brothers and sisters in Christ — cannot be, and are not allowed to be. Now that we have wounded, hopefully fatally, the idea of competition and score-keeping in the church, we can begin the “one anothers.”