Flat broke and starving after squandering a good portion of the family fortune, the irresponsible wastrel of a son came crawling back to his father. He knew that by rights, his father should disown him and might chase him away or have him beaten. He was prepared to grovel, if necessary. But he was not prepared for what actually happened: throwing propriety and decorum to the wind, the elated father raced across the field to embrace his lost child. He ordered the servants to bring clothing befitting a son, and to prepare a banquet in the boy’s honor.
The boy’s older brother, however, was not so gracious. Peevish and petulant, he refused to go into the party, insulting the younger brother and the father alike. And again, unexpectedly, the father demonstrated grace: he left his role as host and came out to entreat his firstborn to join the celebration, listening patiently as he whined about how unfair it all was. “Son,” the father said at last, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32, CEB).
Everything I have is yours. You still stand to inherit the estate; why are you jealous? Come in–celebrate. What was lost is now found; what was dead is now alive. Isn’t that reason enough for joy?
This is the story that comes to mind when I read how Paul concludes his correction of the squabbling Corinthians, who have taken up slogans like “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” as they jockey for spiritual supremacy:
So then, no one should brag about human beings. Everything belongs to you—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, things in the present, things in the future—everything belongs to you, but you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Cor 3:21-23, CEB)
Their preferences for Paul, Apollos, or Peter were not mere differences of opinion. “I belong to X” had become shorthand for “I belong to X…and if you belong to Y, then I’m smarter than you.” But all of this, from the standpoint of a gospel in which the lost is found and death turns to life, was utter foolishness.
Stop boasting about whose fan club you’ve joined, even if it’s mine, Paul seems to say. I want no part of that, and you shouldn’t either. Don’t you see? You’re acting like people who have to earn your status, who look at each other as competitors, who have to fight with each other to get a bigger slice of the pie. But you already have everything, because everything is of God, including the Savior who was crucified for you–and you are in him.
“Everything I have is yours,” says the Father. That should be an occasion of gratitude for a grace that is lavish beyond imagination. So how can I envy another? Why would I? It will only leave me standing outside the party, miserable and alone.