Trial by Fire
"...but I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction" Matt. 5:21-22 Philips, emphasis mine.
Judson rubbed his eyes, screen fatigued from hours of pouring over financial records. It was late, and outside the March winds howled rattling his office windows. No early spring this year.
Record snowfall topped off the gloom of tax season. April 15th loomed off on the near horizon. Judson, too tired to sprint to the finish, felt more like a marathoner in the midst of
Heartbreak Hill. No wonder his father, now semi-retired, moved to Florida.
Draining his coffee hours ago he needed something, but was in no mood to head out for a real meal. He grabbed his cup and headed for the break room vending machines. Rounding the corner he entered the cubicle farm. What the???
Normally staffed with a small army of C.P.A.'s frantically preparing returns, every desk was empty. What sounded like a celebration came from the direction of the break room. Office policy prohibited any type of party during tax season. Barring a dire emergency, everyone was to be at their desk hard at work. All knew the rules and were generously compensated for the sacrifices they made. The breach of protocol was inexcusable. The fun stops now!
Dad? What is he doing here?
Standing just outside the break room Judson spied the ringleader of this insurrection - his father. A lavish spread stretched across several tables and the elder Mr. Robbins encouraged his employees to indulge. The tired workers needed no coaxing.
"Jud!" his father boomed, "I was just about to come and get you."
Standing behind his father, Judson saw a familiar face. His stomach convulsed violently. His brother Tim was back.
Enraged, Judson turned to leave. Of all the bone headed stunts. What is he thinking?
Tim's abrupt departure from the firm several years ago, along with a handful of important accounts, had set the firm back substantially. Hard work along with soothing many ruffled feathers of disillusioned former clients had recaptured most of their old business when Tim's firm folded.
Steeling his emotions, Judson faced his father.
"What is he doing here," he seethed. "I'm not up for another round of sob stories."
"Jud, he's your brother," Mr. Robbins pleaded. "He's made mistakes, but he's owned up to them. He deserves another chance."
"He's had plenty of second chances and will probably need a whole lot more." Judson got up in his father's face. "If I'd pulled the stunts he has, you'd have fired me a long time ago."
"Jud, listen to me."
"No dad, you listen to me. I have worked my tail off to undo all the damage Tim caused. I have groveled and placated people he left hung out to dry. This firm fixed his mess with money it really didn't have. Now he's back and you want me to welcome him as if nothing happened? I don't think so. Not on my watch."
Sadly Judson's father watched his son storm off to the confines of his office. Tim had faced his demons and prevailed. Whether Judson could was beyond his control. All Mr. Robbins could do was to maintain his vigil and see if his other son would soon return.
Sound familiar? It's a remake of the Parable of the Prodigal. In that story the younger son hurt his father deeply. However, his dad refused to pass judgment on him and actively watched for the boy's return. In the midst of a joyous reunion between father and wayward child, the man's older son turned prodigal. Although he had no right to do so, the elder sibling judged his younger counterpart a loser, a hopeless case...a lost soul.
Once again the father refused to pass judgment, and chose to remain with the angry older brother outside of the party.
Offense, anger, and being someone's self-appointed judge and jury places one in a precarious position. Apart from, and not joining in Heaven's celebration can pave the way for more serious consequences. Jesus warned against categorizing anyone, especially a brother, as a lost soul to our own peril. Rather than disenfranchising a fallen sibling, like the father in the parable we should be optimistically watchful for them to return to their senses. And welcome them back.
How about you? Do you know individuals whom you could easily write off as unredeemable? What does the story of the prodigal say about the serious condition of the older brother? Are there attitudes about others that could separate you from participating in the joys of the Kingdom, and if so, are they worth maintaining?