Parable of the Prodigal Son (Upside Down Kingdom series #5)
Jason White



How does God receive those who turn to Him? Is He waiting to scold them or punish them harshly? Or does His love cause Him to respond in an unbelievable way… In this parable, Jesus shows us the heart of God through the heart of a father.








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*This transcript was auto-generated by a transcription service and may differ from the originally spoken content*So it was probably right around this time of year, five years ago, that I found out that one of my childhood friends had passed away. He was in his early 40s. It was a surprise. Did didn't see it coming was hard news to hear. We grew up together. I had known him since we were around five or six years old, we went to the same church together. We competed in youth sports together and against each other. I had spent the night at his house he had spent the night at my house, we eventually graduated high school together. We were even roommates during our freshman year of college at Texas Tech, we eventually both moved back to our home towns, and started our own families. And we just kind of grew apart. I mean, I would seem every now and then around town, and hey, how you doing, but we never really hang out or hung out much. In our adult lives. Eventually, we moved to the Austin area is began to pastor a church down there. And I probably hadn't seen him in five or six years, whenever I got the news that he had passed away. And it was devastating. It was really hard news to hear. I went back home and went to the visitation and went to the funeral. And I'll never forget, I was standing in line at the visitation and I saw one of my former tennis players back from my tennis coaching days before ministry. And she began to tell me that they had moved into a house right across the street from him and really had gotten to know him pretty well. As a matter of fact, she said there weren't too many days that she didn't run into him. And they didn't have a conversation. They had really gotten to know each other been in each other's homes and all the above. And she said Jason, I don't know if you knew this or not. But he went through a really rough patch in his life a few years ago and had to go into a rehab facility in the Austin area. And while he was down there, he actually came to your church and listened to you preach one time. I said no, he never came to my church. I never saw him. And I think that would be something that I would remember if my friend had come to my church. He's never been to my church. And she said, No, he, he came to your church, most likely what happened is that he probably came in after the service started, he probably left as the service was ending. And you never saw him or never even knew he was there. I gotta admit, I was really kind of bothered by that I was kind of angry and upset. I mean, this was a childhood friend of mine that I had grown up with and was going through a really dark time in his life. And if he had been at my church and hadn't even bothered to say hello, or to make sure that I knew that he was there. And I was just thinking, why why? Why would he do that? said Jason, I would only imagine that he was too embarrassed. He was probably feeling a sense of shame and disappointment in his own life and to have to face you and explain why it was that he was even there in the first place was just probably a really hard thing for him to overcome and really do in his life. And I got to admit, I was still angered, I was still bothered. I mean, this was a friend of mine who was gone, who I was never going to see again in this lifetime. And I had had the opportunity potential opportunity to minister to him to serve him to just do something for him in that particular moment. But I never had that chance. It's hard news to hear. I get it, though. I mean, I understand there's a sense of shame. There's a sense of embarrassment whenever we make certain choices in our lives that can cause us to want to keep those things from other people. We don't want people to know about those things, because we don't know what they'll think about us and how they may treat us on the other side of those things. And gosh, I mean, we all have those things in our past we all have things that even probably right now in this moment, no matter how young or how old you are, as you think about those things. There's a sense of anxiety that comes with those there's a sense of regret and guilt and, and even shame there's things that you don't want other people to know about because if they did, they would think differently about out you, you don't know how that would impact your relationship with them. That's hard enough in and of itself. But it's also the kind of thing that can cross over or carry over into our relationship with God when we have these kinds of things in our past just hanging over us. And we're, we're wondering what God really thinks about those choices that we made, and how that really affects the relationship that we have with him. Surely, he has to be really disappointed with us in those choices that we made, certainly that affects the way that he relates to me. Maybe we wonder about those kinds of things. But the thing is, we don't have to wonder about those kinds of things. We don't have to worry about that. Because Jesus tells us, Jesus tells us in this parable that we're going to look at in Luke chapter 15, exactly how God feels about our past in these kinds of things. Jesus starts off and telling this parable in verse 11, by saying this, there was a man who had two sons, the younger one said to his father, Father, give me my share of the estate. In other words, Dad, you are dead to me. I mean, this was a highly unusual request for a younger son to be making before his father passed away. While he was still alive. I mean, no doubt that he was entitled to part of his father's estate. But that was after his father had passed, one day for him to come to him while he's still living, is to treat his father as if he was already dead. He's probably thinking or feeling I don't really need you in my life. I don't need my family in my life. As a matter of fact, you know what, Dad, you're holding me back, you're restricting me from the real life that is out there somewhere. And so just give me my share of the state. So I can go out and I can find real life and I can experience real happiness in my life, because you're just holding me back. Certainly not finding those things here. Now, the father doesn't have to grant this request that has been made. But Jesus tells us what happens next. And verse 15, says, so he again, referring to the Father, divided his property, between them, the father says, Okay, you want to go out on your own, you want to go your own way you want to try and figure out life on your own, then be my guest go right ahead. Now, the thing I don't want you to miss, and I want to point out early in this so we can see it as we go through here is who these characters represent in the story. The father figure here in this parable represents God, the younger son represents sinners, those who are in rebellion against God's laws and commands and trying to find life outside of him. And the elder brother that we'll see later in the story represents the Pharisees or the religious leaders of the day. And so one of the things that we see even early on with what Jesus is telling us in this parable, if this is who these characters represent, is the image we get is that of the Heavenly Father, that of God, allowing us to go out and try to find life on our own. If we think it's out there. He's he's allowing us to go outside and find life if he thinks that will lead to us seeing the real truth. That the life that we're looking for the life that we think that we're missing in our lives, is really out there somewhere. And it's really not what we think it is that God is going to allow us to go chase after those things, even if it leads to a path of destruction, not because he's some cruel God and just loves to see us suffer in those ways or encountered destruction in our lives. But because he uses it for a purpose to help us see that the life that we think we're missing isn't really out there somewhere. And the life that we all are longing for really is found only in Him. And as we see in the next or the next and the parable that Jesus is telling here, that sons pursuit of life and happiness really doesn't end up being what he thought it would be. Verse 13, Jesus goes on it says, not long after that the younger son got together all he had set off for a distant country and they're squandered his wealth and wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country. And he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a search to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields, to feed pigs. Now, this was a pretty low spot for someone who is a Jewish man to end up in in this moment. I mean, after he had gone out and, and lived it up and partied it up and trying to find life and meaning and purpose out there on his own, he ends up in this place where he's feeding pigs, an unclean animal for a Jewish man to be associating with, which just shows us how low he had come. This was one of the most dishonorable jobs a Jewish man could have. He's gone pretty low. He's hitting rock bottom. But even as he's doing so, it gets worse. Verse 16, Jesus says, He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. He's gotten so low in his life, that he is desiring, desiring to eat, what the pigs were eating, can you imagine being so low in your life, that you have a desire to eat whatever is being fed to pigs, this guy has truly hit rock bottom. Jesus goes on and picks up the parable in verse 17, it says, when he came to his senses, now, let's not skip over that too lightly. Because when he, when he came to his senses, is kind of a key phrase in this parable. A lot of times when we run from God, and we're trying to find life apart from Him and find life in other things, whatever that may be, right, I mean, alcohol or, or drugs, or pornography, or food, or shopping, or whatever it is, we can get so deep into those things, and they can even eventually cause us to be so miserable. But instead of when someone's offering us a better way, opening our hearts to them, and being willing to pursue a different way we harden our hearts to them, and hold on to those particular things, even in a state of misery, because even though we've chased after those things, and we were trying to find life and meaning and purpose in those things, and we know that we're not experiencing those, we at least know that they can at least help us cope with the misery we're feeling in that moment. And so instead of opening our hearts to another way, we ended up clinching to them, and at least using them to cope with the things that we're now feeling. And all of a sudden, it becomes this cycle, we're using them to just cope with what it is, and then we're feeling the low again, and we're feeling miserable again, and we're going back to him and we're just stuck in the cycle. And maybe that's even where some of you are today. Maybe you're stuck in the cycle that we're talking about. And maybe God is using this to say, Would you would you come to your senses this morning? Would you come to your senses. It's my hope and my prayer, that if you're stuck in this cycle, that you would come to your senses this morning. It's what happened in the younger son's life, he came to his senses. And Jesus goes on in verse 17. And after saying this, sir, he says, when he came to his senses, he said, How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death. I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired servants. Now, that was not a small thing. I mean, this guy had hit rock bottom. But here's what he was essentially saying, there were three classes of laborers in the first century. And what he was saying as a hired labor as a hired servant was, I would like to make myself as the lowest of the low when it comes to a laborer in your household. Even slaves in this day, we're in a higher classification than a hired or daily servant, because even though a slave was still obviously pretty low on that scale, they were generally kids standard part of the family in this day and age, a day laborer or a hired servant was just that somebody who was hired every now and then, just because they needed a little bit of help. And so this guy was saying, Listen, he's going to go back to his father and say, I'm not even asking to get back into the family. All I'm asking for is that you'll consider hiring me out every now and then when you need a little bit of help, so that I can make a little bit of extra money, because that's even going to be better than the situation that I found myself in here. This is what he's planning on going back and saying, and in verse 20, Jesus says that he got up and went to his father, can you imagine what that journey was like? Having come to his senses, having come to this place where he's got this plan, where he's going to face his father and present this request to him, Have you ever wronged someone in your family, maybe it was even your own family or someone else that you loved, and you've come to your senses, and you've decided you're going to go back to them and face them after you did? Whatever it was that you did. I know I have. And whenever we're in that situation, all we can think about is what it is that we're going to say we're thinking about the shame and the embarrassment that's going to come whenever we have to rehash all of these things in front of the person that we did those things to where rehearsing the speech, and what it is that we're going to say in those moments, we're wondering how that person is going to react to us in that moment. And so no doubt that when this guy went back to his father, and he was traveling along the way that he was thinking, these very same things, the sense of shame, the sense of embarrassment, what am I going to say? How am I going to say it is my father even going to respond positively in grant my request, because he didn't have to do that, right. As a matter of fact, with the particular emphasis in this day and age on the father being the authority figure and, and having all the authority in the family, he would probably expect, and you and I might expect that this would be a great time for him to put his son in his place. Right? I mean, if he shows up on the scene, then he's got to get his honor back as the authority figure and the father in demand the respect that he was do in this particular culture, you know, good, lousy excuse for a sign you thought you could go out on your own and take my stuff and find real life and happiness. And then you want to come back here and you want to work for me? I don't think so. Right. This is what he might expect. This is what we might expect for this day and age. But it's not what we see happen in verse 20. It says bow. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son through his arms around him and kissed him. Absolutely amazing. I mean, it's incredible the response that we see here in this moment, and even even more so because of what we just mentioned. I mean, this guy was the father, he was the authority, right? Again, if anything we would expect him to come down on his son into so see this reaction is one thing, but the other thing is a wealthy land owner would have never been seen running in this particular fashion. In this particular day and age, it wasn't the respectable or proper thing for someone who was a wealthy land owner to do. But this dad didn't care. He put all of his dignity aside, and he ran to his son anyway. And he began to embrace him. He sees him from a long way off, and he says, That's my boy right there. And he picked it up and said, I don't care what anyone else is going to think about me. I don't care if it blows my dignity in front of everyone else. That's my son, and I'm running after him. And I'm going to embrace him and give him a hug and slobber kisses all over his face, no matter what other people are going to think about me in this moment. And did you notice that the son hasn't even had a chance to give his speech yet? He hasn't had a chance to give a speech. He hasn't apologized yet. He hasn't said Dad. I'm sorry. I was in the wrong he hasn't told him his plan of just being willing to be a higher day laborer. He hasn't even said a word and his father has already accepted him back into the family and restored him as his son. I hear and I see very popular pastors and messages being spread in our culture a lot of time about how what God is really seeking from us what it is that he's really wanting us to do, is to be extremely broken about our sin. Before him. I hear people talking about all the time make a huge deal about people who were are laying prostrate before the Lord and just crying out and moaning and in wailing about their sins before him, as if this is the work that God is doing in their lives, to make them grovel and beg and show him how truly sorry that they really are. They make it sound like this is what super spiritual people do. This is what God does when he's doing a huge work in our lives when he's doing a huge work in and around our culture. And if this is the kind of thing that God is doing in our lives and wants to cause in us, then why in the world with Jesus tell a parable where a sinner didn't have to do any of those things. Before he picked up his robe and just came running after him. It embraced him and said, You're still my son. You'd think if it was pretty important that we were supposed to come back and grovel before the Lord, we were supposed to lie before him and just show him and prove to him how sorry, we really are for all of our sins, that he would have told a parable where the guy had to do all those things. The father figure who were presents, God would finally see that he really means it and say, Okay, now because you prove to me that you really are sorry, you can come back and be in my family. But that's not the way he tells the parable. He tells it where the guy had a plan to come back and do all of those things. And before he could ever get any of them out. He says nothing's changed. You're still my son, who you are. This is the response that he receives from his dad. And guess what, he can't handle it. He can't handle it. Look what he does. In verse 21, the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. In other words, the son still feels the need to try to make things right. His dad has already accepted him back into the family. But the son is like, no, no, no, no, Dad, I have to make up for this. I've got to accept a lower position. I'm not worthy to be called your son, please let me confess and show you how sorry I am. Let me do my penance so I can earn my way back into your good graces. It's so difficult to trust that someone loves us unconditionally, and that there's nothing that we have to do to actually earn their acceptance. It's so much easier to feel like we've actually done something to earn our way back into their good graces than it is for someone to react like the father does. Who just welcomed him back without having to do anything in return. But that's what the father does. As a matter of fact, he's trying to get all this stuff out. He's trying to apologize. He's trying to say I'm no longer worthy to be called your son and relay all of his plan. But guess what he does? The father just cuts him off. Look at verse 22. But the father said to him, just stop right. I mean, he basically says just quit. And he looks to His servants and says, quack, Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring, ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, Bring the fattened calf, not just anyone the fattened calf and kill it, let's have a feast and celebrate for this son of mine was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and he is found. And so they began to celebrate. The father just cuts him off. It's like, he doesn't even let him finish the apology. He doesn't let him make the full confession. He doesn't let him get to the point where he has to prove that he really is sorry about things. And we, we see this we read about it in this parable where Jesus is trying to give us a picture of what God the Father is like. And yet we still try to make it sound like the most spiritual thing that could happen is that every Sunday we all show up and we all just start to gather here right at the altar and we start to lay prostrate before the Lord and just cry out and and moan and well in in make puddles up here with all of our tears about how sorry we are like God is in the business of making sure that we're so focused is on everything that is that we've done wrong that Jesus has already paid for, and taken care of I think it says, what it says to us is that this is a lot more about us than it really is about him. Make it a big deal that this is the right thing to do. Because when we get done with those things, we can pick ourselves up and feel a little bit better about how sorry, I just felt that how hard it is that I just cried about the way that I'm turning my life around, and I'm going to show him the things are going to be different. Now, you're going to be really proud of me this time. It's so much easier for us to put the emphasis back on ourselves and what we're doing in that moment and what we're going to do rather than what he's already done. And accepted us in. Father just cuts him off when he's trying to say all of these things and just throws him a big party. And it was a big party. I mean, people didn't really eat meat too often back then. And a calf like this would have only been eaten on major religious holidays. But the father says you know what, this, this is worth celebrating. And so they do they celebrate and they have a party, he even gives his son the the robe, it gives him the best clothes to wear. Again, he gives him a ring, which most likely had a seal on it representing that he the sons membership in the family that he was seeing him and regarding him officially as his son, and he even gave him sandals to wear. Servants didn't wear sandals. But sons did. Sons or sandals, this father was trying to show his son and receive him to make sure that he knew that there had been nothing that he had done, no matter how far he had gone, that had come between them. And that took away his status in the family. And there is nothing that you've done in your past that can take that away, either. No matter who you are, no matter where you've been, no matter what it is that you've done. Jesus has taken your past. And he has nailed it to the cross. In if it's been the thing that's been keeping you from ever saying yes to Jesus, He wants you to know today that he has taken care of it, and he will receive you into His family, if you'll just turn to him. There's nothing that you can do to make him love you more or any less. He's done all the work to forgive you of whatever it is that you've done in your past. If you'll just turn to him and say, Yes, please. And then he will put the best robe on you put the ring on your finger with a seal on it, give you sandals to wear and adopt you into His family as well. For those of you who have said yes to Jesus, you've been adopted into his family. And you've decided to run and try to find life outside of him anyway. What this shows you is that he's not waiting for you to turn your life around and get to a certain point where you're doing better to come back to him. He's not waiting for you to show up and tell him how sorry you really are and convince him because of however it is that you're going to react in that moment. He's inviting you to just turn your attention back to him. So that he can show you that you're still a part of his family and all that you really have in him and all that you can experience in being a part of this family that you've been trying to find apart from him that you already had in him and you just didn't see in the first place. So for some of you maybe you see yourself as the younger brother today, you find yourself in this story as him and having never come to Jesus because of that or you have but you've been wandering and this is speaking to you in that way. But Jesus isn't finished telling the parable. He actually turns the attention now to the older brother. Look what he says beginning of verse 25. He says meanwhile, the older son was in the field and when he came near the house, he heard music and dancing and so he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come he replied, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has him back, back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So as father went out and pleaded with him, but he answered his father, look, all these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours, not my brother, but this son of yours, who has squandered your property with Prost herb, your squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fatted calf for him. My son, the father said, You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because your brother, this brother of yours was dead, and is alive again, he was lost, and is found. What we see in this older brother is just a complete self righteousness. Maybe was trying to use his moralism to basically declare to God, what it is that God owed him, right? He thinks of his relationship with his father or God in more of a transactional way, I did all of this for you, I serve you. And so you owe me what it is that I want. And I feel like I deserve in my life, you should be rewarding me for how good of a person I've actually been. This is the thing about religion, which is what this is, religion is about you. It's about self. It's a focus on what you are doing compared to other people. And then we use that to justify before God, why he should give us better situations and circumstances over those people, because we're doing it better than them. And then we become jealous whenever God gives them and gives them better situations or circumstances or eternal life. And we go wait a minute, I'm the one who's been following you all these ways. I didn't go down that particular road there. Why aren't you giving me these kinds of things? When we approach God in this way, it's a transactional way. It's a religious way. It's one that's filled with self righteousness. And it doesn't just come out in the way that we try and relate to God when we're living our lives this way. It comes out in a way that we're treating other people who other people who aren't living up to our standard of moralism. I mentioned to you earlier about my friend who had, who had passed away and how he, he came to my church, and he didn't let me know he was there. And I told you about the person that told me he was probably feeling a sense of shame and regret. And that that was why he didn't come forward and tell me that he was there on that particular day. And it, it certainly could have been that that could have been what was going on in his mind. But as I've read this parable and thought about it, it's made me rethink that there, there could have been another possibility. You see, when I look back on my own high school and college days, I know that there was a bit of self righteousness there about me, I didn't make some of the same choices that my friends were making with partying and alcohol and all the things that I would have classified in my own mind as as big sins, right. And the whole thing is, is I certainly wasn't perfect, but that's the thing about being self righteous, those of us who find ourselves more like the older brother tend to diminish whatever sin is going on in our lives. And we highlight how well we're doing in the other areas. And we use that to compare ourselves to them and lift our own selves up and then have this conversation with God about how proud it is that he should be of us, because we're not out there doing what those big centers are all doing. So there was a time in my life where I certainly feel like that was probably the attitude that I have and that I really looked down on others and I was using them to prop myself up and make me feel better about me and to justify myself and so I wonder I just wonder if part of the reason that my friend didn't come and let me know that he was there that day. was because he didn't perceive me as a grace giver have wept at that possibility. It breaks my heart that my friend was in one of the darkest moments of his life. And that, because he may not have seen me as someone that would show him grace, and welcome him home in that moment, but rather may have seen me as someone who would have caused him more shame, and more embarrassment. That's why he didn't make, make it known that he was there that day. And I don't want that to happen to you. Maybe you can relate a lot more to the older brother, then you can the younger brother. Maybe you found your own self being upset and mad at God. Because he's celebrating and rewarding people who have spent their lives sinning and making the choices that you didn't make. And maybe you've tended to judge other people. And there are people that have wronged you in their lives, and they've certainly would never come back to you because they don't perceive you to be a grace giver. But someone who's just going to judge them, and cause more shame and guilt and embarrassment in their lives. If that's you, I invite you to come before the Lord this morning. And to allow him to show you who he's remade you into as a son or daughter of his one who's now a citizen of the kingdom, and how he's wired you and made you to be a grace giver, because he's given you everything that you will ever need for life and godliness. And that you don't have to prove to him, how great of a person you all are in all the things that you're doing to justify your own self, that you're justified in him. And because he freed you from those things. He's just allowing you to be used by him to extend and give grace to others. And so again, maybe that's where you are this morning, you find yourself to be more like the older brother, maybe, as we mentioned earlier, you relate more to being the younger brother. And again, if that's you, as we get ready to close this out today, I just pray and hope that if you've been too ashamed to come before the Lord, because of your past, that you'll see through this parable today, what God really thinks about you, and the fact that Jesus has already taken your past to the cross. And he's extending complete forgiveness, and affirmation, and will welcome you into the family if you'll just turn to Him. And like I said earlier, if you find yourself as the younger brother, and you had said yes to him, but you've left him in a way where you're you're seeking out life and meaning and purpose on your your own today that you'll see through this, that you don't have to come back, God isn't sitting up there waiting for you to get your life in order. He's not waiting for you come back and prove to him that you're really truly sorry, this time, he's just waiting on you to turn your attention back to him. So that he can show you that you still have your status as a son or a daughter of his and all the life that he's given you and being a part of this family, and how if you'll just learn to walk with Him and trust with him, you'll begin to experience the abundant life that you already have in him as a part of His family. So I don't know what the Lord is doing in and through you and which character you represent, or find yourself in being seen in the story. But whatever the Lord is doing in your life, would you just say to him in this moment, I'm willing to respond however it is that you are leading me as you've done this work in my life today. And as you're thinking about that, let's just pray and ask him to continue to lead us to respond however it is that he's leading us to in this moment. Father, we thank you so much for ultimately for Jesus for him, leaving the glory and riches of heaven to come here out of His love for us and to be willing to suffer and die for all of our sins so that we can have eternal life with you. And Father, there are some of us who have received your forgiveness and we've received your grace but we've we've made our life all about following your rules and still trying to prove our worth before you and to to earn your your graces and to do justify ourselves before you and others. And so Lord, there are a lot of us who are here who relate to being the older brother. And we come to you in this moment and just say, would you use us to be Grace givers in other people's lives. And Father, for others of us who may have said yes to you, but have wandered from you and began to try to find life on our own and other ways, Lord, we recognize in this moment that all of those things never ultimately satisfy. And we thank you for your complete forgiveness, and that we can just turn to you and you receive us. Show us that we have complete forgiveness in you and that we have life in you and we're still part of your family and cash, Lord, that's so humbling. And we're thankful for that. We just look to you in this moment and say, We trust you be our life. We walk with you daily. And Lord, finally, as we close this, I just pray that those who have never said yes to you. Because their past because of shame, the choices that they made in their lives, Father that you would show them today, revealed to them in this moment how much you love them. Jesus died on the cross for their sins. And if they'll just turn to you, receive you by faith, they can have complete forgiveness. And if that's you even now in this moment, whether you're here in this room, or you're watching online, I just invite you to say a simple prayer of faith. If you're ready to receive Jesus into your life, just say, Father, I recognize that there is sin in my life. I feel it, I know it. I'm reminded of it in my past and from my past, and I know I'm guilty. Well, thank you for loving me. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me. And right now, in this moment I put my faith and trust in You, Jesus to be my savior. Would you forgive me? Would you come dwell in my life and adopt me into your family? Thank you for loving me. Thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for saving me and making the part of your family work in me and through me to be a grace giver to others. Jesus name amen.