1009) Instant Gratification (1/2)

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     A young woman in Los Angeles wrote her mother in North Dakota the following letter:

Dear Mom,

     I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, and I have not been very good about returning your calls.  I am sorry about that.  I just got sick of you and dad always lecturing me about money and saving for the future and not going so far into debt and all that.  Even when I came back to visit dad on his deathbed, he had to bring it up and I didn’t want to hear it.

      But you both were right.  Mark lost his job six months ago and has not been able to find work and now we are losing our house.  Not only that, but we are getting a divorce.  All we do is fight about money and blame each other for the mess we are in.  We both made plenty of mistakes, but we won’t admit that to each other.  We disagree on everything, especially on what to do about our debt.  But we do agree on going our separate ways and starting over alone.

     We should have listened to Dad all those times he told us to be more careful about our money.  But we both had such good jobs, the credit was easy, and we had no trouble paying all the monthly bills for school loans, house and car payments, credit card payments, and payments on the loans we took out to do all the traveling we did.  I did not want to have to be like you, waiting so many years to enjoy life and then having only a short time with Dad to enjoy what you worked so hard to save.  We wanted to have it all right now.  I was sure we were better off in these times than in the old days.  I thought we were more secure and we did not have to go by the same old rules you did.  Besides, we didn’t have four kids to worry about like you did, so we thought that the money would never run out.

     I am sorry about the big fight we had after Dad’s funeral.  I hope you can forgive me for all the mean things I said.  How thoughtless of me to add to your grief at the worst time of your entire life.

     If you can forgive me, I have to ask you for a big favor.  I need a place to live for a while.  Not only are we getting a divorce, but we have to file bankruptcy.  And not only that, but my company is making cutbacks, and I am also losing my job. There is no work out here, and there is no way I can afford to live in this city.  I just need to have a place to stay for a while until I get things figured out.  Can I have my old room back for a few months?  I am so sorry.

Your foolish daughter, Pamela

     What got Mark and Pamela into trouble was the desire for instant gratification.  They knew what they wanted and they wanted it now.  The key to such instant gratification is the credit card; something my grandparents never had, what I did not get until I was well into my 30’s, and is now aggressively marketed to 18 year-olds.  For some young people who have never had to wait for anything, the instant gratification available with a credit card is considered a basic necessity of life, no less necessary for survival than food and water.  But life is not designed to guarantee instant gratification, and for someone used to such a luxury, even a small bump on the road can cause the bottom to fall out.

      There were no credit cards at the time of Jesus, but human nature was the same. People then, as now, had huge desires that craved fulfillment, but often needed to be resisted.  Jesus once told a parable about this very thing.  It was the parable of the Prodigal Son, his desire for instant gratification, and what happened when he did receive everything he ever wanted.  ( Luke 15:1-2…11-32)

     Usually, if a son wants to take over the family farm, he first of all stays home and helps his father on what is still the father’s farm.  As time goes on, he can begin to buy into that farm, or perhaps, buy it outright, and then make payments to his parents as long as they live.  A farm is a lifetime investment now, and it was no different in Bible times.

     What you don’t ever see happening is what happened in this parable of Jesus.  In his parables, Jesus would often set up an outrageous situation in order to make a powerful point about the outrageous, amazing grace of God.  “There was a man who had two sons,” Jesus begins, and we find out later the man is a farmer.  Then, says Jesus, the younger of these two sons said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”  “Excuse me,” the father could have said, “an estate is settled after a person is dead.  As you can see, I am not dead, so if you ever want any part of this estate when the time comes, get back out to the barn and help your brother finish the chores.”  That is what any normal father would say to such a rude request.  But this father says, “Okay.”  

     Now, a farmer’s assets are not primarily in cash, but in the land.  Therefore, to give his son half of the estate would have meant selling off a fair amount of land.  But this father does just that, or as the text says, “He divided his property between them.”  So either the father or the son sold the property, because by the next verse the son gathered up his wealth and took it to a distant country.  That is what you call instant gratification.  One half of this father’s entire lifetime investment is cashed in and given to this rude son, all at once, to do with as he pleased.

     A mature and wise son could have seen this as an opportunity.  Perhaps he did not want to be a farmer, but he could have used this wealth to buy a business that did suit him and at which he could work at to support him and his future family.  But this was not a wise son.  Rather, he was very foolish and so, says verse 13, “He squandered his wealth in wild living.”  What was built up over a lifetime, was lost very quickly.  Then, as for Pamela and her husband, the economy changed.  Verse 14: “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”  

     Then he, like Pamela, “came to his senses.”  He decided to repent of his wrongdoing and return home.  There, his father welcomed him with open arms.  (continued…)

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Matthew 5:45b  —  …(Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Luke 15:11-12  —   Jesus continued:  “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he divided his property between them.”

Luke 15:21  —  (Jesus said), “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

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Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your child.  Forgive me, for I want to come home.

–Based on Luke 15:21

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