Monday, September 16, 2013

The Parable of the Loving Father

“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, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.”
–Luke 15:20b NIV

We all know the story of the “Prodigal Son” from Luke 15:11-32, don’t we?  This summer, however, I had the opportunity to hear the story told from another point of view – from the view of the prodigal son’s father.  In a time where there are countless “prodigal sons” and where the idea of a “father” is often viewed negatively due to the large number and the normality of dysfunctional families, most people tend to read this parable and relate to the prodigal son instead of looking deeper.  But what if the focus of the story wasn’t as much about the failure and redemption of the son, but of the great and unfathomable love of his father?

The story starts with the younger of two sons going to his father and asking for his inheritance.  Those of you who know much about inheritances and the like know that this kid was essentially saying, “Dad, I wish that you were dead or would at least act like it.  I don’t care about you in the slightest and I really don’t want to be here, so just give me my stuff.”  Even if his father was a jerk (if you’d never read this story before, you wouldn’t know anything about the character of his father at this point of the story), it’s pretty obvious that this young man was not being very respectful at all.  Anyway, the father, being the type of man that he is, gave both his sons their allotted inheritance and the oldest stayed with him while the youngest took everything he owned, went to a far away country, and pretty much partied all of his possessions away.  He learned the hard way that all too often, friends are only around for as long as you have something to offer them.  All his “friends” deserted him when he could no longer give them anything they wanted.  He had used up all his money and had nothing left to use to pay for things other than to hire himself out for work in the countryside where he ended up feeding pigs, wishing that he could eat even the slop they were given.  Not only did he not have enough to eat due to a famine, but his job of feeding pigs was just about the lowliest position that a Jew could take.

            During all of this, chances are that his father heard stories from others (merchants, traders, people who had visited these distant lands and heard the stories through the grapevine) about his son.  When he found out about what all his son was doing, he could’ve forced him to come home.  Instead, he allowed him the dignity of choosing for himself when he would return, even after he had lost all other dignity.  He didn’t track his son down when he came to the end of himself and rub his situation in his face by saying, “Told you so!”  Knowing his son and what was best for him, he let him finish his rebellion.

            When the father saw his son finally coming home, he was filled with compassion for him – compassion, not pity.  Pity is a bit condescending, giving an attitude of, “I’m right, you’re wrong.  I’m big, you’re small.”  Compassion, on the other hand, is loving, showing genuine sympathy even relating to the pain or sorrow felt.  The difference is all in how the action is played out.  The father was loving in his sympathy, not condescending.  The very next thing he did was to run to meet his son, throw his arms around him, and kiss him.  Now, it may seem like a semi-normal greeting for that time, but in that community and in that situation, the things he did had a meaning.  For all of the things he’d done, the son could’ve been cast out of the community, and they would even have been within their rights to stone him.  The father, however, didn’t want that to happen to his son, so he raced to be the first to get to his son.  In his hurry, he was even willing to suffer public embarrassment and loss of dignity by lifting his robe to his knees so that he could get there faster.  When weighing his own dignity next to his sons, he chose to take the “walk of shame” in his son’s place.  When the father threw his arms around his son and kissed him, he was as much greeting his son as he was protecting him from the townspeople and claiming him as his son, despite the things he’d done.

            Now if you’ve read the story, you know that the son wasn’t intending to return to take his place again as this man’s son, but instead to become one of his servants.  He had finally recognized that the things he had done were wrong, and he came back with an attitude of humility and repentance.  But the father, without a doubt in his mind and without even letting his son finish the speech he’d prepared, sent his servants back to the house to get the best robe to put on him, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet.  They were also supposed to kill the fattened calf for a party in honor of the son’s return home.  Oh, and he told them to do all of this, “Quickly!”  He wanted to publicly reclaim the son as his own before the townspeople could do anything to him.  Again, the things he sent for had meaning.  The robe symbolized reinstated sonship, the ring symbolized reinstated authority, the sandals distinguished him as a master and not a servant, and the fattened calf was saved for use at the best party.

            Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Jesus took the “walk of shame” in our place, sacrificing his dignity for our salvation (Isaiah 53:5).  God puts a robe of righteousness around us (Isaiah 61:10) and calls us his children (1 John 3:1).  The angels throw a party when even just one sinner repents and turns back to The Father (Luke 15:10).  Hmmm . . . so maybe this isn’t just a story about a prodigal son (us) who makes the journey home again, but about a loving father (God) who allows his rebellious son to make a mess of his life because he knows that in the end, his son will return to him all the better for it.

            But wait!  We’re forgetting one crucial character in this story – the older brother.  He was out in the field while his dad and younger brother had their joyful reunion, but when he found out about his brother’s return and the feast thrown in his honor, he wasn’t glad that he was back; instead he got quite angry.  Not the reaction you would think of for someone who thought his brother was dead and just found out he was alive.  He had been obedient and stayed with his father, doing everything he was asked, but he felt like he was never rewarded, and then his rebellious brother returns home and is thrown the ultimate party; how was that even fair?  I know I can relate to that feeling.  If you think about it, there are two types of prodigals: rebellious prodigals, and performance prodigals.  There wasn’t just one prodigal in the story; there were two.  But the father’s response is beautiful: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)  For those of us who relate more to the perfectionist prodigals, God reminds us that we share in His wealth and have already received everything.  For those of us who are the rebellious prodigals, or new Christians, how amazing is it to know that God says this over us!  “This child of mine was dead but is now alive, and they were lost but now they are found!”

Comma Queen


The majority of this article is based off of notes I took at a lecture at TeenPact National Convention 2013 by Bob Chambers entitled “The Parable of the Loving Father.”

1 comment:

  1. Well done, my Queen. each time we read the scriptures and dwell upon them, the Holy Spirit may reveal new insights to us that we never thought about before.