Third Sunday After Pentecost: God Our Prodigal Father
From the chapter in todays gospel, We find one of the most incredible stories ever told. We call it the story of the prodigal son, (Luke 15:11-24). And being that it is Fathers day, I wanted to focus on that particular parable.
When it comes to the word father, some people cringe. Today that name can evoke all kinds of images—from absentee, abusive, uncaring, to never saying “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.” Jesus enters an environment in which He is about to redefine the image of father, just as it needs help today.
In Middle Eastern culture, to ask for the inheritance while the father is still alive is to wish him dead. A traditional Middle Eastern father can only respond one way. He is expected to refuse and then drive the boy out of the house with verbal and physical blows.
But something strange happens . . .
The father’s granting the request makes clear that the character of the father in the parable is not modeled after a traditional Middle Eastern patriarch. Though in the previous two parables that Jesus tells—the shepherd in his search for the sheep and the woman in her search for the coin—the people do not do anything out of the ordinary beyond what anyone in their place would do. But the actions of the father in the third story are unique, marvelous, divine actions that have not been done by any earthly father in the past. On three different occasions the father in this parable clearly violates the traditional expectations of a Middle Eastern father. This is the first of them. An awareness of the redefinition of the word father takes place.
You are about to see that the father is more prodigal than the son. I’ll explain in a minute.
In the parable the reader learns that the son “gathered all he had,” which one translation rightly translates, he “turned the whole of his share into cash.”
This is demonstrated by the fact that the prodigal completes all transactions in “not many days.” He just wants the money for the inheritance.
- The son got all that he wanted (gathered everything).
- He got to spend it on whatever he wanted (riotous living).
- He got to go where he wanted (distant country).
- And do it with whomever he wanted.
- And when it was all done, he ended up with nothing.
You knew this when it came to eating the husk that the was for the pigs. You can't get much lower than that.
That’s when something happens to this boy. He comes to himself:
When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)
Now enters the dad—the prodigal father. Did you catch what I called him? The focus is so much on the prodigal son when it should be on the prodigal father.
What does prodigal mean?
We think prodigal means sinful and that bad living is associated with it. But prodigal is a neutral word. You can attach it to any noun, and the noun determines if it’s positive or negative.
It means to lavish, to go all out. It can include extreme generosity. In the story, the father is just as prodigal. This is the challenge for us who have prodigals. We must be just as prodigal as them. We have to be prodigal with grace, forgiveness, and love and lavish it on them.
Then the father does something unusual—he runs. He is getting prodigal big time.
Eastern gentlemen do not run in public. People of prominence did not and do not run in public.
Why does the father run? To protect his son against others. He does not want him meeting the city first; he wants his son to meet open arms first.
Why does he run? To protect him from the comments of others. He is sending a signal to the community—a signal of forgiveness.
And then it gets crazier. He starts giving the son really significant things. The first is to order the servants to dress the prodigal. He doesn’t tell his son to go and get cleaned up. Rather he instructs the servants to dress him with the best robe and sandals. “Quickly bring out best robe and put it on him”, he says in verse 22. This can only mean, I don’t want anyone else to see him in these rags!
The son never stops being a son while covered in mud. That’s an important message for you to remember. God loves you as you are—not as you should be. God loves you without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point. When the prodigal son comes back home, he doesn’t just get a ring, a robe, and shoes. The greatest thing he gets back is his father.