"This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." This is the grumbling of the religious elite expressed in Luke 15 toward Jesus, being the "fellow" in question. He responds with three stories. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In all three stories, God is portrayed as a desperate, seeking shepherd, woman, and Father.
In the Prodigal Son story, the insults of the son upon the father are many. He wanted his inheritance in advance, affectively treating his father as if he was already dead. They would have had to sell of a portion of the land to raise the cash for the son and thereby diminishing the family's status in the community. The family is now going to be ridiculed. Can't you just hear them saying: "What kind of father would let his son run all over him like that?"
We know the rest of the story, don't we?. The younger brother takes off to a faraway land and lives it up. Then a famine hits the land, he runs out of money and is forced to work for a gentile pig farmer. Talk about adding insult to injury! The text then says that "he came to himself". Does this son's inner moral compass finally arrive? Does he finally get how much he wronged his family? Maybe, maybe not. Is he repentant? Is he just hungry? Well, the the Father, it doesn't matter. He's back. That is all that matters.
The Father is sees him from a ways off, implying that he has been keeping vigil, yearning for his lost son to return.
The Father hikes up his robes and does the undignified thing and runs out to embrace his lost son.
The Father lavishes affectionate kisses upon, more akin to the expectations of a mother for her lost son.
The Father interrupts the son's rehearsed speech about working as a hired hand to make a bunch of excited commands: get the best robe, get his signet ring conferring upon him his role as his son, put the slippers on his feet, this will not be a hired hand, get the fatted calf ready for a barbeque and don't forget to invite all those people who were ridiculing us for our brokenness, let them see we are together again!
This is a Father who leaves all honor, position, community standing behind.
This is a Father who makes no demands of repentance or oaths of loyalty.
This is an image of our Heavenly Father, who loves us radically and completely. Who longs to be in relationship with us.
This is an image of our Heavenly Father, who loves us unconditionally. In fact, that means that there is NOTHING we can do that will make God love us any less. God's love is absolute and full. God's love is that radical.
But, the story doesn't end there. We still have an angry elder brother for the Father to address. The elder brother is working out in the field and hears that his brother has returned and that the Father has wholeheartedly welcomed him back. He is angry. He points out the obvious betrayals of the younger brother to the Father.
Yet, he doesn't see it. He doesn't see that he has also distanced himself from his Father by defining their relationship in terms of slave labor, obedience and reward. These legalistic definitions of their relationship miss the point of God's creative act of creation. It's not about that, but about a relationship, a connection. The Father's love for you is that radical and so needed by all the prodigal and elder sons and daughters of this world. Jesus closes with this reminder to the elder brother and to those Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about who he associated with: "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life: he was lost and has been found."
(The painting above is by John Macallan, called the "Prodigal Son", 1888).
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)