|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
Humans have funny views about God
Sometimes we think of a far away God; looking down at us; waiting to punish us in some way; to perhaps drop a piano down on top of us
Even young children think about God and imagine what he’s like
In a school in America, some young children were asked to write messages or prayers to God
- "Dear God, I went to a wedding and they kissed right in church! Is that okay?"
- "Dear God, please put another holiday between Easter and Christmas. There is nothing good in there now!"
- "We read Thomas Edison made light. But in Sunday School they said you did it. So I bet he stoled your idea"
One of the most insightful messages from these children leads into today’s theme
- "Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family, and I can never do it!"
The parable of The Prodigal Son is also known as The Lost Son so it’s easy to focus on the son
But I wonder, is the focus on the son, or is it on the father?
I think the focus is ultimately on the father, and in particular, two of his characteristics
- His unconditional love
- And his complete forgiveness
When Jesus told parables, he often left you feeling a little uncomfortable
Certainly, the story of the Prodigal Son has this effect
I reckon there is a modern day story of a lost son whose father shows incredible unconditional love
This story perhaps leaves us with a similar unease
It’s about a boy who grew up in Adelaide
His father loved him
Yet when he got older he rejected his culture and people and converted to another religion and left his home
Yet his father remembered him and loved him
Overseas he lived unwisely, and became involved in a war against his country of birth
He became a prisoner of war and was thrown into small cell for 5 years
Still his father remembered him and loved him
In fact, his father fought for him, never giving up hope that he could be reunited with his son
Imagine the joy there is in that family now that they know their lost son is coming home
This is a story of love and forgiveness and in some ways it parallels the story of the Prodigal Son;
A story which perhaps would be better named, "The Loving Father"
The scene is set with Jesus having a meal with “sinners” and tax-collectors
These people have dubious reputations
These were people who clearly weren’t perfect
They were materialistic and pleasure-seeking
The Pharisees, who fasted, ate the right food, tithed the right amount, ceremonially cleansed themselves the right way, found this to be contemptable
They would never spend time with sinners or eat with tax-collectors
How could Jesus spend time with “sinners”?
It’s interesting to note that the “sinners” gathered around Jesus to hear him; to listen to him
Yet it seems most of the Pharisees never really listened to Jesus, and so no doubt, many Pharisees became angry rather than repentant at hearing the story Jesus then tells about a lost son, his angry brother and his loving father
The focus of this story is how loving and forgiving the father is; the father, of course, symbolizes God, our heavenly father
The story begins with the younger of two sons demanding his share of his father’s property
This seems quite extraordinary
I wonder what my dad would say if I went up to him and said: “Dad, sell the house and give my share of the inheritance; I want to have some money”
Inheritances are given out when a father dies; not while he’s still alive
So in a sense the son is saying, “I don’t care that you are alive, father; I consider that you are dead, so, I want my inheritance now”
And incredibly, the father obliges, reminding us that God will let us go our own way;
We are free to choose to be his child or to not be
The son travels far away
He lives a wild life, presumably with women and wine, seeking pleasure after pleasure, with no thought for right and honourable living
And of course his money runs out, and then we can see to what depths he falls
He gets a job working with pigs
Pigs are unclean animals to Jews, and so to work with pigs is a terrible thing to do
In Deuteronomy God said to the Israelites:
- "Pigs are unclean. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses."
The man cannot sink any lower
He is in utter poverty
He’s lost his money, his honour, his friends, and worst of all, by his own doing, he’s lost his father, or so he thinks
However, he comes to his senses, seeing the state of affairs that his actions have created, and he repents
He turns around and heads back home realizing that he is completely unworthy and totally reliant on his father’s forgiveness
From a distance, his father sees him
Perhaps his father had been watching every day to see if his son would return
And as soon as his father sees him, he jumps up and runs to his son
In ancient Middle Eastern societies, a father would never run to his son
It would be beneath a father to run
It was undignified to run
Yet, the father isn’t interested in his dignity; only in his excitement and joy that his son is returning
He embraces his son;
The past is forgotten; it doesn’t matter;
It is one of the most beautiful images in the Bible: "The son was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with compassion, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him"
The Father loves his son, and puts a robe on him, something which is reserved for an honoured guest
He puts sandals on his son’s feet – servants didn’t wear sandals; sandals were reserved for family members
And he organizes a major party
The father’s response to his returning son is quite incredible
When the older son hears of this, he is angry
He can’t accept that the father could treat the younger son so well
He refuses to go in and join the celebration
This seems like a normal human reaction doesn’t it?
To my discredit, I’d probably have reacted like the older son
But the reaction is wrong
Yet the father doesn’t forget about the older son
He goes out to the older son – again, something undignified for a father in the ancient world – the older son should have come at his father’s calling
But, again, the father isn’t interested in his own dignity;
He loves his older son too, and pleads with him, “My child, your brother is back – please be happy with me and celebrate”
And, the story then is left hanging
Did the older son join the celebration or not?
Jesus didn’t finish this story;
It was up to Pharisees, who were acting like the older brother, to finish it
This parable shows us God’s character
God loves us, his children
1 John 4:8 tells us:
- "God is love"
1 Corinthians describes love so beautifully:
- Love is patient, love is kind
- Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs
- Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres
The father in the parable loved like that
His love was patient; he waited for his son
His love didn’t keep record of the son’s wrongs
His love hoped and trusted
The story reminds us of God’s ultimate demonstration of his love – Jesus’ death for our sins
In 1 John we are reminded
- This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us
We have a God who forgives us
Some of Jesus’ last words were
- Father, forgive them
The challenge of this story though is not just to know more about God’s character, but it is to become transformed to have the same character
When you think about it, there is a relationship between us and each character of the story
The Lost Son reminds us of ourselves
- "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"
- I was the lost son
- You were the lost son
- No Christian can deny that he or she was a lost child, whom God has run to and embraced
The Angry Brother reminds us of who we should not be
- The parable is warning us not to be like the angry and unforgiving brother
- This is a theme that is found throughout the Bible
- Remember in the story of Jonah, God spares the repentant city, much to Jonah’s displeasure
- But God replies: "Have you any right to be angry? Should I not be concerned about the city?"
- It seems to be a common human trait to be upset when we see someone that we consider "bad" or unworthy being welcomed and blessed by God
- But why should we be angry at the forgiveness of a repentant sinner?
- This angry brother reminds us not to be like one of those angry Pharisees
The Loving Father reminds us of who we are striving to be like
- Elsewhere in the gospels, Peter asked Jesus: "How often should I forgive my brother?"
- Jesus answered: "Seventy times seven"
- The implication is clear – we aren’t suppose to keep a tally, we are called to forgive, and to forgive, and to forgive again; to never withhold forgiveness
- This isn’t easy
- But it is what we are called to do
- Everywhere in the gospels, we are called to love
- The great commandments are
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul
- Love your neighbour as yourself
- Jesus called us to even love our enemies
- This is how God acts towards us
- And so this is also what we should be like
So next time you hear mention of the Prodigal Son, think also of the loving Father and remember the words
- The son was still a long way from home when his father saw him; the Father’s heart was filled with compassion, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him
And remember to strive to love in the same way, going out to meet the person who needs your love, being filled with compassion for that person and embrace him
- Father, thank you for the love you’ve shown us, your prodigal children
- Teach us to love and forgive like you do, shining your light to those around us
- Prevent us from being negative about the grace and love you have shown to other people;
- But teach us to rejoice like you do
- In the name of your son Jesus