being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus
Never Beyond – Mike Tyson: On Being the Prodigal’s Brother
This post is a response to the Never Beyond poster series from People of the Second Chance. The question: Who would you give a second chance?
Christians LOVE the parable about the prodigal son and for good reason. It’s an example of God’s extravagant grace toward us.
Even if we don’t realize all the cultural implications of Jesus’ day in the parable, we love thinking about how God runs to us and lavishes us with his love.
Stop for second and take a minute to read Luke 15:11-32.
Often times, we identify quite easily with the son who has rudely asked for, received and squandered his inheritance. The bitter taste of the world and fair-weather friends still lingers on our tongues. We can relate to his being in the pit of pigs, wondering if he even has a chance to go home and be a servant for his father. We rejoice in the thought of the son’s repentance. We are thankful to know that God loves us as much as the father loved his son.
It makes us feel good. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel wanted.
But there’s more to the parable. The prodigal is not the only son. There’s another son. A more responsible, diligent, faithful son.
This son, the eldest, has dutifully obeyed and followed his father. He has done all that he was supposed to do as a son. He’s worked hard and taken care of the family business. He’s stayed with his aging father. He’s been the good son.
But then his black sheep brother returns. Repentant.
And the father throws him an extravagant, lavish party to celebrate his return.
The older brother is angry. He complains. He’s bitter. He doesn’t understand why this terrible son receives such a compassionate and gracious reception. He refuses to embrace his brother as the father does. He refuses to come inside to join the party.
The father, full of love, says to him, “‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)
The parable begs for an ending. We don’t know if the older brother decided to join the celebration or if he decided to stay outside and wallow in his bitterness.
You know him, right? If you’re a child of the 80s like me (man, I’m getting old), you probably remember him as a boxing legend. You may have played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on the old school Nintendo system. You might also remember him as a really bad guy. He has a pretty long rap sheet. I won’t list it here. But do an internet search and you’ll find a myriad of websites that list his sins for all the world to see.
Just like the younger brother, he lived in excess. He partied hard. He was (and still is) famous. He was important by the world’s standards. He’s probably tasted all the world has to offer. The people who enjoyed his success dropped him when things got bad. He hit rock bottom and the entire world got ringside seats to watch his downfall. When he fell, he fell hard. When he fell, those who claimed to love him began to hate him. Everyone believed he got what he deserved, including me.
I would imagine that it’s been pretty lonely for Mike Tyson.
On Sunday evening, Mike Tyson tweeted this:
I don’t claim to know Mike Tyson’s heart. What I do know is that repentant sinners receive lavish love from God the father. If Mike Tyson has God like he says, if he has come to his senses, if he has repented – then God the Father ran with open arms to validate him as son. He gave him a robe. He gave him shoes. HE WAS FORGIVEN. Mike Tyson received the same measure of grace that all the rest of us prodigals have (in case you were wondering, that’s an overabundance, never-ending, gushing with loving kindness, eternity’s worth of grace).
Forget about Mike Tyson for a second. What about the people in your life? You know, that person you can’t stand at work? The mother in play group who is ALWAYS bragging about her kids and putting down your parenting styles? Your black sheep relative who everyone in the family hopes can’t make it to the family gathering? Your neighbor whose dog keeps tearing up your flower bed? What about those people? You might be the prodigal’s brother if the thought of God running to them (like he did you) to lavish his love upon them makes your stomach turn. But the truth is that the fountain of grace from which YOU and I drink is the same fountain of grace offered to them.
When that truth sinks into our thick skulls and hard hearts, do we want to be like the older brother? If that person we despise comes repentant before the cross, are we going to complain and argue and try to explain to God why someone like Mike Tyson (or our co-worker, peer, relative, neighbor) shouldn’t receive a party and someone like us should? Are we going to really believe that our duty to God and all the “good” stuff we’ve done for God gives us more merit? That somehow we deserve more because we think we made better choices for ourselves?
When someone else is the prodigal, especially if it’s someone we don’t particularly like, we have a choice. We can either pout outside the house sipping from the cup of bitterness OR we can rejoice, go inside, and party it up because “he was dead, but now he’s alive. He was lost, but now is found.”
Which will you choose?
If you want to hear the sermon that inspired me this week and helped me write this post, click here. Just want to send a thanks to my pastor Mark Cary for sharing these words of wisdom.