how to go to heaven

God is for losers

Jesus told the following parable to a group of people who had lost their way.  It was more of an indictment than anything else.  Following is a paraphrase of the story, taken directly from a collection of Koine Greek manuscripts commonly used in the creation of our modern Bibles.

This flies in the face of how we typically think about the favor of God.

Once there was a very rich man who had two sons.  One a winner, the other a loser.  The good son always did what he was told, worked hard on the family farm, and was a big contributor to the success of his father’s operation.  The other son was a somewhat lazy ne’er-do-well who couldn’t seem to get his act together.

The loser son one day went to his father, announced that he would be leaving, and asked for his inheritance.

Back then, this was tantamount to wishing your father dead – a very shameful act in the minds of Jesus’ audience.  The father willingly complied and the son went and sold the bounty all throughout the town, further spreading his father’s shame.

The son went to a “far off place.”

In 1st century Jewish parlance he went to live with pagans, losers, trash.  He blew the money in some very unsavory activities, got hungry, resorted to eating garbage, and came to his senses.

“I’m living in hell.  I can go home and at least be treated like a slave.  My father’s servants are living better than I am.”

So he crafted a speech that he would deliver to his father.  In the Greek it’s apparent that he’s making up an apology but not sorry or “repentant” for his stupidity.

There is no mention of sorrow, humility, or wisdom.

The picture being painted is of someone who’s committed the most grievous infractions a person from that culture could think of – dishonoring parents, sinful living, rubbing elbows with pagans, and manipulation.

“Kill him” is what most of Jesus’ audience, including his disciples, would be thinking.

His dad, who’s been waiting for him to come home, sees him on the horizon, runs to him and does something akin to tackling him.  The son attempts to give his speech, word for word as he’s rehearsed it, but the father cuts him off.

He places a ring on his finger and immediately restores his status, privileges, and rights to inheritance.

Dad then throws an enormous party and kills the calf that’s only reserved for uber-special occasions.

The other son, the “good” son, understandably, is angry and stands outside the party, refusing to go in.  The father begs him to join the party.

“But my [bad] son has returned,” the father begs, “Aren’t you happy too?”  But the “good” son sees people as most of us do.  Winners should be celebrated – exalted.  You should never throw a party for losers.

Dad returns to the party alone leaving the “good” son to stand outside and pout.  The end.

Favor of God

Jesus tells this story in part to illustrate that God’s view of people is upside-down.  The losers are winners and vice versa.  If He’s right it suggests that our view of most things is upside-down, especially our understanding of how to go to heaven.

Maybe that’s why he so often calls for humility. Getting down on your knees is the highest you can get in an upside-down world.

This parable is one of three (read the whole thing here) that Jesus tells to an audience of “Good People” who are grumbling about the horde of losers that are following Him.

The first parable talks about someone who loses their property then gets real happy when they find it.  The second talks about a poor person who loses their money then gets real happy when they find it.  The third is a story of a man who loses a son then throws an outrageous party when he finds him.

Everyone in Jesus’ audience can track with the first two, few can deal with the third.

Funny that the only loser in this story is the one that didn’t want to go to the party. And if this doesn’t mess with your understanding about how to go to heaven, I can’t help you.

18 thoughts on “God is for losers”

    1. I think it goes a bit deeper – The Prodigal Son is the 3rd of 3 stories that Jesus tells in response to the religious leaders’ comment “He hangs out with losers.” The first story says “Who wouldn’t be happy if they lost an animal then found it.” The next, “Who wouldn’t be happy if they lost some money then found it.” When a lost person comes to God though, you’re unhappy b/c of your hangups with behavior. It’s a very powerful indictment, and a great story 🙂

    1. Without the profanities you end up without the declarative essence of a situation. You can choose to remain apart, but even the Amish swear. Profusely I imagine, they use hammers a lot, but it’s in High German so you think its Handel.
      That being said, Merry Christmas.

  1. Being a parent, this story makes so much more sense to me now. I am the mother of three sons. I love them all equally, but it is true that your heart follows the one who strays or struggles. That son’s return, though not any more important than the other son’s success, is celebrated more because it was yearned and prayed for.

  2. Well I have to say that this take on that was impressive. Since I definitely was that loser. Until God in his Grace has begun to redeem me! Without Jesus I’m always a loser! The most difficult struggles in life, are due to not being humble, means I have to admit my limitations. And there are plenty of those. And the older I get they, become more evident. Along with the physical results of getting older, such as I can’t perform like I used to? I have always struggled with being who I really am before God! Basically naked an open book. Sin just didn’t disappear as a reality in my life when I pleaded for Jesus to save me, it just becomes much more evident. The wonderfully painful aspect of being a Christian is God causes us to face our inadequacy. When I am weak he is strong. Thanks for sharing this Mark.

  3. Nicely done, Mark! I find myself in a quandary when I hear people petition their god because it it makes them feel good, so be it. But I am very firm in my belief that religion itself is the root of all evil (along with a few other institutions like capitalism on steroids and greed.) The prodigal son was simply parroting the old and not very useful adage of “watch out for number one.” The prodigal son did just that. He eventually learned his lesson, one would hope. But remember, this is just a story, a parable. People pray without realizing that to ask god for anything is impolite! Prayer is just the christian version of meditation. Meditation is good. Religion is bad!

    1. I would add that the story intentionally leaves you hanging re whether or not he learned his lesson. The author wants to make the point that the father loves him anyway. Jesus is telling the story b/c of those in the crowd who believe that God only loves people who have their shit together.

  4. The most interesting thing about the open endedness of this story is that it requires the reader to contemplate, “Which people do I exclude and why? Who do I believe deserves less food and joy on account of their messy life? Who is getting something that they don’t deserve and how can I fix it?” It is intended to be incriminating for the reader themselves. Full stop. My personal tendency is to run to my awesome, self-validating thank God that I am not like the older son box-checking. The trouble with that solution is that in trying to distance myself from “that person” I actually become that person. We live in a culture now that prowls the confines of the internet desperately looking for a sweet, sweet opportunity to be offended. The justification of our theoretically moral lives feels like a freedom, but a freedom that comes at the expense of love and mercy is no freedom at all.

  5. Hello, I saw you followed my blog and I decided to visit yours.
    I have browsed a couple of your posts, but this one was very entertaining. The way you imbricate irony with your prose is remarkable. You remind me of a ‘cheerier’ Nietzsche ( I do not know if you have read him, but his thoughts on religion would probably amuse you).

    Regarding the parable, I can do nothing but agree with you on the point that the New Testament’s God is the upside-down view of the world. I would go even further to say that christianty attempts to be the epitome of the upside-down views. And this aphorism, if you allow me to call it so, was truly inspired : “Getting down on your knees is the highest you can get in an upside-down world” .

    1. Liked your post
      Nietzsche was amusing. Great intellectual Securitan. “Standing on the brink of the abyss..” and all that. Bright light and all that. He gave rise and impetus to Dawkins.
      Unfortunate about the whole syphillis thing at the end, going mad, and thinking he was a christ.
      Bit of a serious revocation.

  6. It doesn’t matter how often you fall as long as long as you get back up.
    And, it doesn’t matter how you start, it all comes down to how you finish.
    I’ll finish strong. And I’ll bear the scars of at one time being a loser -I hear women like that. The scars that is, not the loser part
    Thanks RealMarkLandry

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