Symbols of Sonship

As a teenager, I spent Saturdays working on a family vegetable farm—cutting lettuce, wrapping radishes, digging potatoes. There was always a morning tea break. Everyone headed down to the farmhouse and the farmer’s wife served tea . . . and, sometimes, amazing chocolate digestive biscuits! (You should try them.) Sometimes the farmer fell asleep for a few minutes, but often there was some discussion with his four sons about farm business: what to plant where and when, who should weed the spinach, fertilizer application, and a last-minute order for a thousand cabbages from a wholesaler. Business got done at tea time.

I imagine a certain man wanting to do business with his two sons at tea time. But their focus was elsewhere. Jesus told His parable about the family farm to alert two groups of people that they were missing something important. The tax-gatherers and sinners were either on a self-indulgent spree or had burned out after one. They felt spiritually isolated. The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling that Jesus had violated religious etiquette by mixing with those shameful wasters. Neither son had lived an abundant life with the father.

So far, the younger son had been more interested in indulging himself in part of the father’s wealth. He traded his share for pleasures in a foreign land with a vulnerable economy. If he had only taken the time to learn the family business he would have realized its incalculable value and stability. Younger sons are not only those who commit gross sins. I am a younger son when I am too impatient to wait to understand the fullness the Father has for me. Instead of talking through His plans with Him, I run off with little understanding and partial blessings. I indulge myself in exciting ministry or in a contortion of what the Lord really called me to. Only later do I recognize how distorted that calling has become, how limited the fruit, and how burnt out I am.

The tragedy of the older son is that after a lifetime with the father he was still oblivious to his blessings. We find him pottering in the field. He considers his work around the estate like that of a servant or slave (v. 29). What a twisted self-image! His life is all about dutiful hard labor using his own strength and resources. He thinks his diligence should have paid off by now, but it has not.

Both sons preferred to make their own lives. One squandered the blessings of sonship; the other ignored them. Abundant life begins whenever we return to Him.

The father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-23)

The return to the father made it possible for the younger son to join the father’s business. Our Father wants to give us the same symbols of sonship as that son: a ring, a robe, and rich feasting.

The Father designed all our lives to be one long “tea break” with Him. In His presence we wrap ourselves in the assurance of His rich robe. The robe represents our identity as a prince or princess in the royal family. It covers our sin-stained pauper’s rags with dignity. We wear the family colors and they can never be taken away.

Business gets done when we listen to Father’s plans for His kingdom, watch Him at work, and learn to imitate Him. Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). With His ring of authority on our finger we can act on His behalf and accomplish His will. The rich feasting signifies the abundant resources always at the disposal of the King’s kids to accomplish His will. We get to enjoy His blessings and share blessings with the world around.

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