A Father, Two Sons, and a Letter to Rome
One of the basic facts you probably learned about the epistle to the Romans was that Paul wrote it. It’s distinctly Pauline in its logical, argumentative style, requiring us to put our brains in gear and really think. It can be a lot of work to read! But Paul wasn’t entirely original in what he wrote about in Romans. I think Jesus had already given us the basic argument of Romans, years before Paul wrote the letter. But Jesus did it in a way only Jesus could have, in a timeless, unforgettable story.
This past weekend I had the joy of joining more than 50 men on retreat. We ate together, talked together, sang and prayed together, played together. Most importantly, one guy confessed his faith in Jesus for the first time! All that happened in the context of Pastor Tommy Allen sharing from the story of the Prodigal Father, more commonly known as the Prodigal Son. Tommy’s insights from the text, and his own powerful stories, brought the parable to life for us. I’ve realized that Jesus’ story about a father and his two sons can help us understand the argument that Paul is making in Romans.
Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with that story in Luke 15:11-32. Go ahead, click on the link and read it, I’ll wait. Ah, you’re back. Did you notice that both sons have broken relationships with their father? One plays that out by leaving in rebellion and foolishness, but the other one stays home and festers in hatred and self-righteousness. Either way, they are both in need of reconciliation. Isn’t this the sweep of Paul’s argument in the first three chapters of Romans?
In Jesus’ story, we have a living illustration of the predicament that Paul says we are all in. Either you are like the younger son, who has left the father’s house to pursue your own way, and in doing so have reaped the consequences. How this so resembles the lost and wandering Paul describes in Romans 1! Or, you are the older son who, though you “follow the rules,” are pitifully steeped in your own hatred and pride, exactly like the person Paul describes in Romans 2.
We are slowly making our way through the epistle to the Romans, (a letter that was meant to be read in one sitting) so it may seem we’re spending a lot of time talking about the bad news. But maybe it helps to see where we’re going as we see the connection between Jesus’ story and Romans. Where we are in Romans right now, we’re still in the part of the story where the son is wallowing in the pig slop, or where the son is stomping outside of the party in self-righteous indignation. But soon, we’re going to get to the part of Romans where we learn about the father who is looking for his son to come back, who leaves the party to win his son back, who displays a radical grace. I hope you’re looking forward to the rest of the story of good news in Romans as we pick it back up at the end of the month. In the meantime, hopefully the Prodigal Father helps to see that good news in a different light.