“Less Than Perfect?”
March 06, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Joshua 5:9-12 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Luke 15:1-32
Do you pay any attention to the models that they use in catalogs for practically everything?
Men, women, cars, it doesn’t matter; most of them look beautiful and perfect.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue have created an ideal for us that we cannot hope to live up to.
We can never be handsome or pretty enough, we can never be thin enough, and our skin can never be clear or smooth enough. During our entire lives, we are constantly confronted by people who are better than we are and told that they should be models for us. While this can, in one sense, be motivational, if it is done poorly, especially during times in our lives when other people are already making fun of our shortcomings, it can cause us to doubt ourselves and think that we can never be good enough.
That is exactly the kind of feeling that the people of Israel had as they escaped from slavery in Egypt. For hundreds of years they were told that they were “just slaves,” that they were too stupid, too slow, too inferior to be true Egyptians. But then God did something special and brought them safely out of Egypt, and then guided them through the wilderness for forty years and into the Promised Land. As he did so, God said this to their leader Joshua: (Joshua 5:9-12)
9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal [Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew word for “roll.”] to this day.
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
God gave Israel amazing gifts, but he only gave them what they needed, when they needed it. As they arrive in the Promised Land and begin to work, to harvest, and eat the food that the land had produced, God’s provision stops. But even as the gift of free food stops, a new gift comes. God gives Israel a new land where they can support themselves and be proud, a land where they can be independent and productive., a land where they can put away the ridicule of other nations and stop doubting that they are good enough.
We find that same kind of story throughout scripture and we even find it in one of the stories that we have nearly committed to memory. (Luke 15:1-32)
15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The story begins with the Pharisees looking down on Jesus, thinking that Jesus wasn’t “good enough” because he spent time with “those people.” And then Jesus tells them a story about a prodigal son who disrespected his father, took his money, and went off to “do his own thing.” And all of us can see ourselves in the character of both of these brothers. The younger son was “less than perfect.” He messed up; he made a wreck of his life. But still his father finds value in him. The older son looked down on his brother because he was less than perfect and didn’t do everything that everyone expected of him.
We are simultaneously both of these brothers. We often feel as if we aren’t good enough, but, at the same time, accuse others of not being good enough. But the powerful message of the story is that the father loved them both anyway. In all of these parables, the thing that is lost, whether it is a coin, a sheep, or a son, is not somehow less valuable because it is lost, but is valuable simply because it belongs and is wanted. And in each story, the thing that is lost is reconciled, returned, and reunited with the one to whom it belonged.
But how does that apply to us?
Since Jesus is the model upon whom we must try to pattern our lives, the answer to that is easy and in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul explains it as clearly as anyone.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
You might have noticed that in one sentence, Paul used the same word no less than four times, reconciled, reconciliation, reconciling, and again, reconciliation. When a writer does that, we rightly suspect that there is something about that word that is important and that the author intends for us to understand. So let’s hear that again, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
This is a two-part message. First, God reconciled us to him. God took away our shame, took away our sin, took away our reproach, took away our slavery, and set us free. God cleaned us up so that we never have to be ashamed or embarrassed because we think we aren’t “good enough.” God adopted us into his family, making us sons and daughters of the creator of the universe, so that we could belong. We are valuable, we are “good enough” because we belong and because we are wanted, and loved, by the King of Kings.
The second part of Paul’s message is that we are now committed, by God, to a message of reconciliation. Paul says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Because we have been reconciled, we have now been sent out to tell the entire world the Good News of God’s love and reconciliation. And if that is our mission, there is no way that we can look down on others and think that they aren’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, or talented enough, or that they somehow aren’t good enough.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue have created an ideal for us that we cannot hope to live up to but we have been sent, by the King of Kings, to rescue everyone who has been told that they aren’t good enough. We have been sent to invite them to belong.
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