Max Lucado, in his book, In The Grip Of Grace, tells a story that he calls the parable of the river. Five brothers lived with their father in a castle. Four were rebellious; the oldest was a good and obedient son.
A wild river thundered past the foot of the garden and the boys were forbidden from going near it. But one day the four younger brothers made their way to the river, and while going too near the edge of the bank they were swept downstream.
Long story shortened, they finally ended up being spewed up onto the river bank in a distant and inhospitable land.
They developed survival skills and lived there for a number of years. Each evening they sat around a fire reminiscing, until one morning one of the brothers was gone. The others searched for him and eventually found him building a hut, having made friends with the natives.
After a few months another went missing and the two remaining brothers found him watching the one who had built himself a hut. He told them: ‘My rebellion is nothing compared to his. Look at him. I must keep a record of all his wrongs to tell our father how bad this son of his is.’
Soon only one was left and he found his brother building a road along the river bank that he thought would enable him to make his way home. More importantly, his father would be impressed by his determined effort and would be more forgiving.
Then one day as the last son sat alone by his fire, he heard the familiar voice of the oldest brother. ‘I’ve come to bring you home,’ he said.
They embraced warmly and the older brother set off to find his remaining three siblings. The first refused to leave, saying: ‘I have built this palace for myself and my new friends. I will not leave it, and anyway, father might not forgive me.’
Brother number two, who had devoted himself to listing all his brother’s wrongs, also refused to leave. He was committed to seeing that no crime went unrecorded.
In the same way, the brother who was building a road home to impress his father was determined to finish what he had started.
‘Look,’ he crowed, ‘I can already walk five steps.’
‘But it will take five million steps to bring you home. You will never...’ but he too was shouted down and so the older brother set off home with his younger brother on his back.
Isn’t that a bit like us as we relate to our Father? He extends his arms to shower his unconditional love upon us, but we insist on earning his favour. He wants to talk about us and his forgiveness, but we prefer to point out the shortcoming of others. He wants us to enjoy an exciting and fulfilled life, but we have built our own pathetic little palaces and settle for crumbs.
I often speak of Jack Frost, who reduces the life of faith down to, ‘... receiving the father’s love, and passing it on.’ Now that sounds easier than it is, for the difficulty we have is receiving his love, free, no catches and without cost, and that is at the heart of the human condition: We do not understand the Gospel of Grace.
Max Lucado: In The Grip Of Grace. W Publishing Group ISBN 978-0-8499-1143-9