Most people think they have a contract with God. For our part, we keep a list of rules, do a list of good works, and believe the right theology. In turn, God will give us good things now and in the life to come. That is how it works – right?
Oh so wrong according to Jesus. If that is what Jesus had taught, then the religious leaders of Jesus’s day would have had no reason to kill him. But Jesus taught something very different. Something that took away the religious leader’s power over everyone who followed them.
Jesus tells this story of two sons to the religious leaders. . . each son wants to make a contract with God:
The younger son had been looking for love in all the wrong places and living wrongly. Things go from bad to worse when he finds himself homeless and hungry. In his desperation, he decides to offer his father a contract in hopes that his father will let him come back home: “I will be your slave and you will be my master.” But the father will not sign the contract!
The older son, who has never caused his father any problems, catches his father throwing a party for that rebellious younger brother. He is intolerant and judgmental of anyone who doesn’t take the road that he takes. He points out to the father that doggone-it, they had a contract. He would work hard for the father (keeping the rules, doing the good works, believing the right theology) and the father would give him good stuff. But instead of honoring the contract, the father is giving the good-for-nothing younger brother all the good stuff that rightly should go to the older son. Maybe so, but the father denies that there was ever any such contract!
Jesus was teaching that God does not make contracts. God makes covenants. God’s covenant says, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” All we have to do is say, “okay.” There is no contract involved – no work that we have to perform – no rules that we have to keep – no theology that we have to adopt. Of course, there is a sort of price to pay. God has promised that those who say “okay” will become like Christ. God will give them the wisdom and power to serve God and others. They get to take part in the mission of God. This is what we say “okay” to: to letting God transform us.
In the story that Jesus told about the two sons, though the Father rejects both of their contracts, he offers them his unconditional love – a covenant: he will be their father and they will have all the rights as his heirs. All they have to do is say, “okay.”
This is Christianity – what Jesus taught. How has Christianity become something so unrecognizable?
April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for group Bible studies!