Pastor Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
An elder brother says to his father, “I worked my tail off getting my MBA. Then I got a good job and paid off all my student loans. My lazy brother majored in underwater basket-weaving. Now he sits around here doing nothing, and he gets his student loans paid off. How fair is that?!” His gracious father responds, “You are debt-free, son. Your poor brother was drowning in debt.
We have to celebrate because he was dead as far as the financial institutions are concerned.
Now he is alive again.”
There has been much debate about President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 of each college student’s debt. A lot of people feel like this is unfair to those of us who have already paid off our student loans and to those who never had the opportunity to go to college.
Others feel like the president is not doing enough, and still others believe that this does not address the real problem of overpriced tuition.
This debate gives us a chance to think more deeply about our theological understandings of grace and forgiveness.
We know very well that grace is distributed unevenly in the world. Never in my life could I hit a tennis ball like Serena Williams or throw a spiral like Tom Brady but people like that are so far out of my league that I rarely think about the unfairness of their extraordinary talents. I am much more likely to be jealous of my friends who are better looking or more successful than me. Somehow, that grace should be within my grasp.
Perhaps this is why the older brother is so jealous of the so-called prodigal son in the famous parable from Luke 15:11-32. This undeserved grace is so near that it drives him nuts. Of course, every time I preach on this parable, it causes a bit of discontent, since most Christians imagine themselves as dutiful older siblings, but it’s nothing compared to the angst created by student loan forgiveness. Are we more comfortable with undeserved grace concerning eternal life and then we are when that grace involves money? Grace is easier to take in the abstract!
As Christians, we know very well that our whole lives are living examples of undeserved grace. Our breaths and our comforts, our skills and our resources, even our determination and our abilities to make good decisions come to us as gifts from God. Not everybody has the same gifts. In fact, no two of us on this Earth receive exactly the same talents.
The only way that you and I make peace with the fact that we are not Serena Williams or Tom Brady is by realizing that we have all been given tremendous presents from God’s gracious hand. In the grand scheme of things, you and I have been given so much that we need not be jealous of what anyone else has. This is the prodigal father’s point.
Our job as believers is to live lives of gratitude and do our best to share the grace that we have received with others.
I would like the parable of The Prodigal Son better if the younger brother, rather than the father, had gone out and invited his discontented brother to the party. Perhaps the recipients of student loan forgiveness would do well to volunteer some time with those less fortunate.
God loves you, and so do I!