LUKE 15, THE PARTY
Maybe we have, but I can’t help thinking we’ve never really felt happiness until we’ve felt the astonishment of being someone who knew and felt beyond any doubt that you had no “right” to be at a magnificent party that’s filled with the sights and sounds of celebration; and yet there you are.
Not only have you found yourself there but you found yourself to be the source of all the joy—the source of all the JOY.
No conquering hero you! You haven’t been to war and carried yourself gallantly, no bronze star, no purple heart, no medal of honor, no citations for self-sacrifice; you’ve done nothing to make your Father proud. So why are you there? Why were you almost carried into the home and ushered later into a hastily put together celebration?
This is a party where everybody fusses over you, cries over, laughs over, dances with you until you come to believe the incredible—it isn’t a dream; you really and truly are wanted; sincerely loved and sincerely welcomed!
You finally believe [almost altogether] it isn’t tolerance you’re hearing—it’s joy! The smiles are real! Happy chaos, laughing bedlam and perhaps hardest of all to believe is this: your presence is the engine that drives the entire thing! You're why the Father has thrown this party!
See that man over there? The older man who’s grinning from ear to ear; you’re now and then catching phrases and words that he’s half shouting above the noise as he makes the rounds through the happy crowd—“Yes…came…night before…” “Have no words…” “My…heart…all joy…I…beside myself…” You recognize him, of course, that’s your Father. The only one in that crowd that hasn’t quite “got it”—even yet—is the one knows in his bones that he has no right to be there—you!
But outside the house, out there in the dark of the evening when parties are enjoyed, in the “darkness outside” there’s a man who’s not only stunned but one who’s filled with resentment that one such as you should be made so much of. You, the one who not long ago generated so much pain in the Father’s heart; the sulking outsider rages at it all.
He knows you, don’t you see—he has “the facts” and he has heard “the story” that has made the rounds about you. Some of the things he has heard are indeed true and no one knows that better than you; no one feels the shame as you do. The one thing he never knew and the one thing he might never understand is this: your Father’s love is fathomless and ceaseless and that is the sole grounds for the lighted house, the music and dancing, the eating and drinking, the laughter and the sound of your name that’s called over and over again in a happy tone. Poor thing, because he doesn't love you he sits outside in the dark and will not come in despite the Father's longing and so, awful image, he continues outside in the dark.
But it isn’t only you that aggravates him—there’s something about the generosity of the Father that he can’t get his head around. Such generosity is beyond him because, God pity him, such love is beyond him. This means he's only able to think that such a party should be thrown only for someone like him. People without heart not only doubt the Father, they doubt the friends of a Father like that. [“Soft on sin, don’t you know.”]
Listen, there’ll always be someone who thinks you shouldn’t make it to the party! And you may be tempted to condemn yourself to misery because you know they’re around, hovering, keeping their distance, hinting a fault, suggesting, implying, speaking by their coolness, rolling their eyes when they see you smile—all the while hoping that they’ll steal your joy, a joy your Father and his friends wish you to experience. And you, still not able to fully believe because your past haunts you, allow their opinion to be as powerful as the Father’s warm embrace.
It may be extremely difficult and it may take a long time for you to get used to the lovely clothes the Father has put on you or the honored place in his presence he has given you, but do your best. The Father’s opinion of you, the joy he says you bring him, the happiness in his heart that you have returned is worthy of your trust.
Trust him! For he is the one who watched the road day after day, longing to see you coming home. Your critics didn’t watch out for you, hoping for your return; they didn’t call you into the Father’s heart and they didn’t die for you.
There’s no denying your ragged and pig-stained clothes when you first came back up the road from who knows where but there’s no denying either the best clothes and the party! So as often as you can for as long as you can, put on your silly hat, inflate your balloons, ring your little bells and blow your whistle and take His word for it—you’re home and loved beyond measure. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength and live out your life in peace and commitment.