The story of the prodigal son is well known. You can read it here. A son leaves, demanding all that his father owes him. In other words, he asks for his inheritance before his father is dead. He spends all of his money, is hungry, and decides to go back and ask his father if he can work for him.
His father receives him with open arms, throws a party, bestows more gifts upon the son, and celebrates the fact that his lost son has returned home.
Meanwhile, the older brother is offended. He has never left his father’s side, has remained faithful and complains that he has never had a party in his honor. The father reminds the older brother that he has ALWAYS had access to the gifts of the father and that is a gift in and of itself.
The story ends with an unresolved plot. Will the older brother accept the invitation to celebrate his younger brother’s return or will he continue in stubborn resentment? We don’t know.
At our recent youth mission trip, our kids shared a message about this story. They focused on the idea of welcome. The father welcomes the lost son when he returns. But even before that moment, the son has some idea his father will receive him, even if it is as a worker instead of a family member. The older son does not welcome the younger brother and it is unclear if he accepts the invitation from his father to notice the welcome and acceptance that he has always enjoyed and extend that to his younger sibling.
As the kids brilliantly spoke on this story, they emphasized the necessity of welcome as the first step towards relationship. The father doesn’t interrogate the younger brother about his transformation or maturity. He doesn’t ask that he repent or prove himself worthy. Perhaps that comes later, after the welcome and celebration. He opens his arms to the son as he is. It is this that allows the two of them to establish relationship once more.
The older son is less welcoming of his brother. He seems jealous, resentful, and perhaps distrustful of this brother who betrayed his family and now comes back. All of these emotions seem normal, justified even. But it is also clear that they do not make room for relationship.
Relationship begins with welcome, an openness to the other person for who they are. At Steamboat Island Church we meet in a variety of different locations. We meet in people’s houses, at Steamboat Square, we gather to serve meals to others, and to break bread with friends. No matter where we meet, or what we are doing, we want to extend a sense of welcome to whomever comes to us. You are invited, just as you are.