When my boys were young, the popular gift to give was a Lego set. This was in the days when Legos were growing beyond just bricks and were including all sorts of extra bits — people with heads and hands that could pull off, swords and guns and stuff. When helping the boys clean up, I would gather the bits, attempting to keep all parts together which resulted in turning the playroom upside down until I found that tiny sword. I was obsessive about finding the missing part and was extremely satisfied when I achieved success.
When the Pharisees accused Jesus of consorting with sinners, He told several similar stories in Luke 15. There was the story of the woman who searched her house seeking for one lost coin out of 10 and the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. Both of them had a party when they found what was lost. Now I didn’t throw a party when I found the Lego sword, but I can definitely relate. Apparently, so can God. Jesus said there would be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous who do not need to repent. My first response is to think, “That’s not fair. Shouldn’t there be constant rejoicing over the 99 who don’t need to repent?” But then I realized that I had already found all the other Lego bits; they were safe and sound, and all my effort was spent searching for the tiny sword. It’s a good thing I am not God.
Jesus told a third story along the same lines. This one is about two brothers, the diligent, hard-working elder brother and the scofflaw, shirking younger brother who only wanted some fun in life. The younger brother talks his father into giving him his inheritance early, not so he can invest it in some business venture, but so he can spend it immediately and have a good time while he was still young. As the story goes, he left the farm, blew through the money in no time and ended up on the streets sharing scraps with the animals. He’d been brought to the place of repentance. He had no place to go. He knew his father’s servants were treated well, so he figured if he apologized his father would at least hire him as a worker.
But his father hadn’t written him off and had every day anxiously watched the road for any sign of his youngest son’s return. One day he was rewarded and was so thankful his son had returned alive and reasonably well, he threw a party for everyone in the neighbourhood to celebrate his joy.
When the eldest returned from work that night and found out what was going on, he felt no joy, only resentment. He considered the celebration to be a slap in his face, thinking his father loved his younger brother more than him. He questioned, “How come you’ve never had a party for me, and I’ve been obeying you all these years? How come you are rewarding him for losing all your money and causing you terrible pain? I’ve never done those things and you’ve never treated me special.”
The eldest son didn’t realize the place he had in his father’s heart and in his house. He shared in his father’s wealth and inheritance; he was equal to his father in status and respectability.
I heard this story as a child and as someone who lived in a forgiving home, I could relate to the younger son to a certain extent — not to the depth of his flagrancy — but I never gave much thought to the elder brother. Now I do… because he is me.
For now, I am safely in the sheep pen, in the widow’s purse, in the Lego bucket. God is searching for the lost ones and needs me to help. I pray to refrain from judging others and considering myself to be less of a sinner than they. I pray I will welcome my brothers and sisters home with love and joy and celebration as they re-enter the family of God. With repentance and with God’s help, I can.
Anastasia Bartlett is a member of St. Aidan’s Orthodox Church in Cranbrook and still has all the Lego bits. St. Aidan’s Pastor Andrew Applegate can be reached at 250-420-1582.