The story in Luke 15 is popularly named for the prodigal son, but it could be titled, "The Story of the Prodigal Father." Prodigal means recklessly extravagant, and I think that describes the actions of the father in the story. Jesus told this story in response to the criticism that he ate and drank with sinners. It is a picture of God's extravagant love toward repentant sinners.
The father granted the younger son's request, even though it was a slap in the face. As a father, I can begin to imagine the grief he felt as his son rejected him and everything he stood for. Rather than writing the son off as a lost cause, the story seems to indicate that the father was constantly looking for him to return. In spite of his grief he kept hoping. When the prodigal returned, the father saw him coming in the distance and ran to meet him. Imagine this dignified man running out to greet his son. In those days, one who did what the son had done would be met by the village elders if he returned and officially banished. The father was not only overjoyed to see his son, he was also protecting him.
Before the son could get his speech out, his father told the servants to prepare for a huge blowout party. He covered the son's rag's with a luxurious robe, put good sandals on his feet, and a ring on his finger. All of these were things a beloved son would wear, not a servant. There were no words of disapproval or recrimination, only grace and compassion. When the elder brother acted like a jerk and refused to join the party, the father went to him with grace, reminding him that he was also a beloved son. Again, there were no harsh words from the father.
We have the same kind of Father. When we wander away from him, forgetting who we are, he is waiting patiently for us to return. He knows we will return because his Spirit draws us. We are told in Scripture that God's kindness leads us to repentance. He doesn't force us back and hold us against our will. It's grace and love that brings us to him, and it's grace and love that keeps us home. In the same way, when we think we somehow have to perform to cause the Father to love us more, or think our good deeds mean we are better than our brothers, the Father calls us to remember that he loves us because he loves us. He doesn't love us any less when we screw up, and he doesn't love us any more when we do good things.
Sometimes we forget who our Father is, and who we are as his children. God calls us back to him, not as a servant. He calls us back, not as someone who has earned his love. No, the Father calls us to return home, remembering that we are his beloved children. He is ready to welcome us with open arms and celebrate our return.
The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son
The Prodigal Son: The Elder Son
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