We are on day three of our look into the prodigal son parable Jesus shared. We looked at the crowd and Jesus’ reason for this parable on day one. Yesterday we looked at the prodigal son himself. Today we are going to walk a mile in the father’s shoes. Just a reminder, I named the youngest (prodigal) son Levi, his father James, and the oldest (faithful) son Philip. Some of what is included in this story and tomorrow’s story are going to look very familiar, as two or more of our individuals are involved in certain scenes. Feel free to skip ahead if you want on parts you already know.
James is a very successful farmer. He owns 100 acres that he plants in different sections and crops, including a rotating portion he leaves fallow, each year. He has farmed this land his entire life and has built an excellent reputation and a considerable fortune for his efforts. He has two sons, Philip and Levi, that he plans to pass his property onto after his death. For now, he is training them for what they will eventually take on. This includes every job, from the plowing of the fields to the sale of the produce. Philip, as the eldest has progressed further than his brother Levi.
Because of the demands on his time from his business, James hasn’t spent as much time with his sons as he wishes he could have. They are together a lot of the time but their backs are bent in work and there is no time for idle talk. A distance has developed in their relationship as a result of this. James especially feels this distance between himself and Levi. But even Philip has trouble relating to Levi. James is determined to do whatever he can to mend their relationship. Maybe Levi just needs to know he is valued and trusted. Philip has been given the majority of the responsibility. It may be time for Levi to step out of Philips shadow.
These thoughts have been going through James’ head for some time but he hasn’t found the right time or opportunity to act on them. Levi seems to have taken it upon himself to motivate his father into action. Levi asked for a meeting with James today at breakfast. James agreed to meet with him in his office following their meal.
Breakfast is over and Levi and James are sitting in James’ office. Levi looks nervous as he begins. “Father, I know this is a little out of the ordinary, but I wanted to ask a favor of you. With the new baby coming, I would really appreciate you putting down in writing our portions of the inheritance. I’m not trying to be insensitive but you are getting older and if you want to make any special provisions you should probably do so now.”
James is surprised by Levi’s request at first, but then he considers what Levi said about special provisions. It is true that he is getting on in age, but he is nowhere near his final days. Still, if Levi felt compelled to bring this up, he must have a good reason. James loves Levi dearly and does all he knows how to show him that love. James has noticed that Levi has been acting more and more irritable since Philip married. Maybe this would be a way for James to show Levi how much he loves and trusts him. “I appreciate you bringing your concerns to me Levi. Let me think the matter over and get back to you by the end of the day.”
James sits for a little longer after Levi leaves for the field. “Putting this all in writing may be difficult, but Levi appears to need this assurance from me. Maybe seeing on paper exactly how valuable he is will help ease his mood.” James calls his manager into his office and the two of them go over the land and decide what would be the best way to divide the property. He feels certain that he has made generous provisions for each of his sons while still leaving something to his grandchildren too. This should satisfy Levi.
After the evening meal James asks Levi and Philip to join him in his office. Once all are assembled, James gets right to the point. “Philip, Levi brought up a matter this morning that I felt was worth considering. He pointed out that I am getting older and that your baby is due soon. He thought it might be a good time for me to put down on paper what each of you will receive as your inheritance.”
“Father, surely you are not considering this. You are still very healthy and have many years to make this kind of decision.”
“I agree Philip, I am in fine health. But Levi has made some fine points in his argument that I am inclined to agree with. Therefore, I have decided to honor his request. Philip, as the eldest son, you will receive the double portion, according to our customs. Levi will receive His portion as well. But I am holding a small portion aside for any grandchildren. It will be equally divided amongst all my grandchildren at the time of my passing. So my estate will be divided as thus: Philip, you will receive 60% of my property. Levi, you will receive 30% and a trust of 10% will be held for the grandchildren.”
“Thank you father. That is very generous. Don’t you agree Levi?”
“Father, would you be willing to let me know which parcels would be included in my portion”, asks Levi.
Levi’s directness surprised James but this is an easy request as he has already done just that with his manager earlier in the day. After hesitating for a moment James shows Levi and Philip exactly where the boundary lines of each of the inheritances would be. Levi appears satisfied and nods his head. “Thank you father for indulging my concerns.” Afterward, all retire for the evening.
James continues to think about Levi’s requests for a few days. Levi still seems on edge to James, not quite as bad as before, but James is still thinking about how to transition Levi into a position of authority too.
Five days after James spelled out his plans for distributing his property to his heirs, Levi again asks James for some of his time. After breakfast the two move into James’ office. Levi doesn’t seem reluctant to start this time, as he immediately starts speaking as soon as they are seated. “Father, I have some ideas as to how I could increase the yield on the fields you have assigned me as my portion of my inheritance. With your permission, I would like to try implementing some of my ideas. I feel that I have learned a lot working under Philip and would like a chance to manage a few of the servants on my own. What better place for me to try my hand at being a manager than on the property that would fall to me eventually. This way if I succeed, I will benefit and if I fail, I alone would incur that loss.”
It is almost as if Levi has been privy to James’ thoughts. Yes, this could be a very good opportunity for Levi to test his wings and show his skills. James assigns ten servants to work under Levi and gives him his blessing. James informs Philip of Levi’s new role and quietly asks Philip to keep an eye on Levi, so he can lend him help if the need arises. “Don’t step in too soon Philip. Levi needs to know he has our support and that we have confidence in him. But be ready to lend a hand or offer advice if Levi asks. He needs this opportunity if he is ever going to make something of himself.”
“I will do as you ask father, but I’m not sure I understand where he is going with all this. He could just as easily work in one of the barns near us instead of working on ‘his property.’”
“I agree, but he seems excited for the first time in a long time and I believe that may motivate him to put more effort into this experience than he would if he had nothing to personally gain or lose.”
James goes about his business for the next week. Neither Levi nor Philip has come to him with any concerns. James is determined to let Levi have this opportunity to show what he can do, even though he is dying inside to know how things are going. He is determined to wait at least a month before approaching Levi and enquiring on his progress.
Two days before Levi’s 25th birthday Levi again asks James for a private meeting. James is wondering if Levi is going to ask him for help or share how things are going. James catches a look from Philip that he isn’t sure how to interpret.
Once they are seated again in James’ office Levi begins to share his concerns. “Father the men don’t respect me as their boss. They say that I am “only pretending” because Philip continues to look over my shoulder at every turn. They also know the land belongs to you. If I am to truly have a chance to prove myself, I need to fully receive my inheritance now. Only then can I command the respect of the workers as a true landowner. I know this is an unusual request, but I believe this is my only chance to make something of my land and my future. This could be your gift to me on my birthday.”
James wonders why Levi or Philip didn’t inform him of the workman’s attitudes. He wishes he had checked on Levi’s progress earlier, but he didn’t want it to appear that he didn’t trust Levi. Levi’s requests were getting harder and harder to grant, but James was determined that if he showed Levi that he had confidence in him that Levi would rise to the occasion. “This is indeed an unexpected request. Let me think it over. You will have your answer on your birthday, one way or the other. But if I do this for you, I will need to do the same for your brother.”
“I understand father. I await your decision. I pray you understand my concerns as well.”
After Levi leaves James sits in his study for a while. He is uncomfortable with this request but his love for Levi wins out. James finally gets up and heads into town. He needs to see his banker to make the arrangements Levi has requested.
James and his banker talk over the changes that need to be made. “I cannot understand why you are going along with this outrageous request. I find it to be very suspicious. You should at least protect yourself by ensuring that the property cannot be transferred without your approval.”
“I understand your concern Simon. I too have had difficulty reconciling this request with our traditions and laws. But it is my property and I wish to do this for my sons. To put in any provisions would look like I didn’t trust my own sons. No. A full transfer is what I want.”
James has trouble sleeping that night thinking about his decision. “Did I make the right choice? Adonai, I pray I have made the right decision. Please help Levi become the man You have intended him to be.” After his prayer James quickly falls asleep.
At breakfast James tells Levi and Philip that he would like to see them both in his study following their meal. After all are assembled, James shares with Philip Levi’s request. “Surely you are not considering this father! Levi, you have taken this too far. It wasn’t enough for you to have father divide his property while still in his prime. Now you want to take it right out of his hands! How could you even propose such a thing?”
“Please Philip, I know this is irregular but Levi has made some fine point in his argument again. I have decided to do as he requested. I have signed over ownership of your inheritance to both of you. The land is yours to manage as you each see fit.”
“Thank you father. You will not regret this decision”, said Levi.
“I want no part of this father. I will receive my inheritance at the proper time. I do not wish to rush you to your grave.” Philip gets up and gives Levi a look of disgust as he leaves the room. Levi rises and leaves too. James is alone once again with his thoughts. He understands Philip’s reaction. He had reservations too. Once more he prays. “Adonai, please show me the way to love my children. Please do not let Philip’s heart become hardened towards his brother. Lead Levi in the path that You have chosen for him. Give me strength to trust You for whatever You bring my way. I lay my sons at Your feet.” James rises from his seat and begins his regular business.
James is determined to trust God with his sons’ future and prays for them every day. He prays especially hard for Levi, as the joy he saw on his face has steadily faded. A few days later James notices Levi’s absence from the breakfast table. He heard Levi moving around the house earlier so he figures he wanted to get an early start on his day. This pleases James. “Maybe Levi is finally found his pace.” James goes about the rest of his day as usual.
When Levi is absent from the evening meal James wonders at the long hours he is putting in. James decides to keep watch for Levi, but as the night moves on there is still no sign of Levi. James is beginning to worry but it is too dark to try and search tonight. James goes to his room and prays for Levi’s safety. He will go out at first light and find out what is going on.
James barely sleeps that night for fear of what has happened to Levi. As soon as the sky begins to lighten James is out of the house and heading to Levi’s portion of the property. James is puzzled by what he finds. There are no laborers and Levi is nowhere to be found. James rushes over to speak with Philip. Surely he knows where Levi is.
“Philip, have you seen your brother? I didn’t see him all day yesterday and I can’t find him this morning.”
“The last time I saw him was when he was paying those three “workers” he hired from town night before last. I can’t believe he hired those worthless men. I know none of your workers would lift a finger for him after he treated you so shamefully.”
“What do you mean? Why wasn’t I told about this? Did you offer to speak with the workers on his behalf?”
“He never asked for my help. I didn’t tell you because as he said, if he succeeds or fails, it will be on his own head. Besides, I am just as disgusted with his behavior as the workers. I am sorry that his behavior has caused you alarm. I will ask around and see if anyone has seen him in the last day. I will bring you word as soon as I know anything.”
“Thank you Philip. I will go back to the house and see if I can find any clues there as to his whereabouts.”
James feels a little guilty for entering Levi’s room. He has not done this since his sons reached adulthood, but he needs to find out what is happening. Levi’s bed is rumpled, but that may simply be the way he normally leaves it. There are few clothes in Levi’s wardrobe and none of them appear to be ones he wears lately. James realizes that many of Levi’s clothes are unaccounted for and this is troubling. Levi’s toiletries are also missing. It appears that Levi has gone on some kind of trip. But where and why?
Philip comes to the house and tells James that one of the servants saw Levi leaving with a fully loaded donkey very early yesterday morning. The servant hadn’t asked Levi where he was going but by the look of the donkey it was probably going to be a long trip. James told Philip that he had come to the same conclusion after looking into Levi’s room. “So many of his belongings are missing. I have no doubt he is planning on being gone for a while. I just wonder where he went, how long he is planning on staying, and why he left.”
“I don’t know father. I don’t believe it would do any good to send someone out looking for him since he has at least a day’s lead on us. I imagine all we can do is wait and see.”
“I believe you are right. But I believe I will add prayer to my waiting.”
A week later Philip comes to the house and tells James that he needs to come with him quickly. There is something going on over on Levi’s property.
“Is it Levi? Has he returned?”
“No father. I don’t know who this is, but they are saying some very strange things. You need to see for yourself.”
James and Philip hurry over to Levi’s property where they find a young man and his father walking about. James calls out, “Hello neighbor. May I help you with something?”
“My name is Titus and this is my son Arran. We are just looking over our new property. Arran wants to build his home here for his new bride. We are looking for the best location.”
James’ knees begin to weaken as he listens to Titus. What has Levi done?! Has he really sold the property? He never dreamed Levi would do such a thing. Surely this is a mistake. There must be some other explanation. Philip puts a steadying hand on James’ arm.
James finally finds his voice. “Can you tell how you came to be in possession of this land?”
“A young man named Levi came to my shop last week and enticed me to buy this property from him. He described it so beautifully that I couldn’t resist. I have been looking to purchase something away from the city for my son and his new family. I don’t want my grandchildren growing up in the city streets.”
Philip has remained silent throughout the exchange but James can see the set in his jaw and his clenched fists. “Come Philip, let’s leave these men to their work.” James turns and heads for home.
Philip remains watching for a few minutes longer, then he turns and catches up to James. “Father, surely you are going to do something about this. That is YOUR property. Levi had no right to sell it.”
“No Philip. There is nothing I can do. When I gave you both your inheritance lots, I removed myself completely from ownership. Levi had every legal right to sell the property, even if he didn’t have a moral right to. The only hope is for the land to be returned to our family in the year of Jubilee. Until that time, we leave it in God’s hands.”
“You can be assured that I will never touch my inheritance as long as you live. I’m furious with Levi. If I ever get my hands on him I’ll wring his neck!”
“No Philip. We have to trust God to work this out. Please do not harbor hate in your heart towards your brother. This would not please God or me.”
“For your sake and for God’s sake I will forgive. But not for Levi’s.”
Three and a half years pass without a word from Levi. James continues to pray for both his sons every day. He does not know if Levi is even alive any longer. He truly fears Levi is dead, but he can’t stop praying that someday God will bring him back to him. James even sits facing the road every afternoon, just in case Levi should choose to come home. He wants to be there to welcome him.
One day as James sits watching the road, he sees a figure top the hill. He studies the person in the distance. Could it be Levi this time? So many people have come and gone over that road in the past three years and every one of them has raised a spark of hope in James, until he realizes that once again, it is not Levi. James’ supply of hope is beginning to run dry. “Please Adonai, let me see my son once more before I die.” James continues to watch the approaching figure. The fact that it is a man is the first thing to become obvious. Next, the color of the hair and the way he walks. Then shape of his face. With each detail James begins to see Levi develop before his eyes. James jumps up and runs as fast as he can towards the man who is surely Levi. Tears are streaming down James face as he nears his son. The son who was dead and is now alive!
As James nears Levi, Levi falls to his knees and cries out, “Father, I’m so sorry! Please forgive me!”
Before Levi can get another word out James is falling on the ground beside him and enveloping him in his arms. James kisses Levi’s face. Tears are streaming down both faces. Levi again asks for James’ forgiveness. “Father, I’ve sinned against Heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (verse 21).
James’ heart is bursting with joy for the safe return of Levi. James dismisses Levi’s claim of unworthiness with a wave of his hand. James pulls Levi to his feet and begins walking him towards home. James has not released his arms from around Levi. He is holding his long lost son. As they get closer James shouts out to a servant who had followed him to bring the best robe, a ring and shoes for his son and to put them on him. He told a second servant to go out and kill the fattest calf and get it ready for a celebration. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (verse 24).
James sends Levi with one of the servants to get him cleaned up and begins making preparations for the grandest party he has ever hosted. The air is filled with excitement and everyone is caught up in James’ joy.
The party starts and the whole house is filled with fine food, music and dancing. Only one thing is missing; Philip. James wonders where he is, so he sends one of the servants out to tell him the good news. The servant quickly returns and tells James that Philip is waiting out in the yard and wants to talk to him. “Tell him to come in. What is he waiting for?”
“He says he won’t come in and asks that you join him outside instead.”
“Fine. Please keep an eye on the wine. Make sure we don’t run out. I’ll be right back, with Philip.”
James steps through the door and sees Philip standing in the courtyard with his jaw, once again, clenched and fire in his eyes. “Philip, why are you standing out here? Come in and celebrate with us. Your brother has come home.”
“All these years I have served you and I never disobeyed you. But you never gave me a party or let me take one of the goats and have a party with my friends. But when Levi comes home, after wasting your property and money on prostitutes, you kill the fatted calf and throw him a party the likes of which hasn’t been seen here before. Why father?”
“I love both of you Philip. You have always been with me and I’m grateful for that. Everything I have is yours now, but it is appropriate for us to celebrate Levi’s return. He was dead and is now alive. He was lost and now is found.”
“I will be happy for you father, but I will not celebrate with Levi.” Philip turns and walks away.
“Adonai, thank You for returning my son to me. Please help Philip accept the path You have chosen to walk Levi down. Please help Levi remember well the lessons he learned on this path. Help him become the man You made him to be. Please bring healing and forgiveness between Philip and Levi.”
Father God, Your paths aren’t always smooth for us. Thank You for praying and loving parents who hold us up before You. Who stand in the gap and love us regardless of the mistakes we make. Thank You for my parents, who have loved me through all my stubborn years. Thank You that they never gave up on me. Thank You that the path You took me on walked through those dark places and created the person that I am today. Thank You that You are not finished refining me too. There are still a LOT of areas that need work. Thank You for loving me right back onto your path. A lot of times Your love is shown by letting us reap the consequences of our own choices. But You are always there at the end of those consequences, as well as being there in the shadows keeping us from real harm. Thank You for welcoming me home, again.