I’d bet most of you are acquainted with the story of the prodigal son, who ended up broke and broken a long way from home… It is a timeless parable about love and redemption, about family and feuds and forgiveness. But stop and think: this story is a diamond with several facets, and as we put our own lives into this parable we find ourselves discovering more than just the sad tale of a broken family and their lost son. It challenges us to see other perspectives that surprise us and call us deeper into its applications. Where are you in this parable?
Here, There, or There?
Remember the audience to whom Jesus told this story, the tax-collectors and Pharisees at Matthew’s party. Then, consider this facet. “And he arose and came to his father’s home. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)
Let’s explore the Father’s response to the younger son, who had recklessly asked for his inheritance, and then taken off and wasted it on “riotous living.” Since his older brother later tells the Father that his younger brother “squandered your property with prostitutes” (How did he know that? Wishful thinking? Maybe what he himself would have done?), it is safe to assume that he was not a good steward of the resources he had taken.
They Didn’t See That Coming
Any good Hebrew Father would have washed his hands of such a son, spit in his direction, and that would have been that. (Which is obviously what the older son expected.) However, THIS Father, the one Jesus knows, reacts very differently to the situation. First, the Father saw him “when he was still a great way off”. This can only mean that the Father was looking for him daily, standing perhaps up on the terrace on the roof and watching the road, hoping against hope to see his son coming home.
This was a Father who loved his sons, and who missed the lost son and longed for him to return. Upon seeing him, the Father had compassion. He didn’t fixate on what the son had done wrong, and he didn’t concentrate on punishment. Instead, he was filled with love. What he did next broke all kinds of cultural rules and expectations. Rather than waiting at home for the son to come crawling back, he did something no proud Jewish man would have EVER done.
Who IS This Running Man?
He ran down the road, embraced his son, and kissed him. There’s a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean called “When God Ran” that depicts the moment beautifully. They sing about the broken son straggling towards the house and the hopeful father running to meet him on the road. Suffice it to say that this emotional outburst of love by the Father surprised the neighbors, the servants, and even the ragged younger son coming home.
The son even began to beg forgiveness with his rehearsed speech of contrition, but the Father overruled him. He said, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Wow.
A Different Father Than We Expected
Perhaps you have wandered away from God. Perhaps you have wasted or squandered His resources. Maybe you think He doesn’t appreciate your behavior, and wouldn’t welcome you back. Jesus has news for you: The Father is watching for you, anxious for your return. He is filled with compassion over anything that hurts you, and he longs for your company.
Yes, you should be repentant, and it might even be a good idea for you to rehearse your speech begging for forgiveness. But don’t be surprised if the father Jesus knows runs out to meet you and embraces you before you even get the words out. Come home. You might even get invited to a party! If my Bible is right, you will be the guest of honor.
Hebrew Fathers didn't run. They wouldn't break their stride; Public etiquette required that they be dignified. Yet Jesus told a story once about a son who left, And squandered all he had to wind up sad, alone, bereft... Coming home, he found His Father watching from above, Then running out to meet his son with unexpected love! Jesus told this parable, as only Jesus can, About the way God loves the lost, and about the time He ran! If you are far from home, and broke, don't give a helpless shrug: Go back! Your Father's running out to greet you with a hug.
From the song “When God Ran” by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti:
And then He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
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