A Father's Strange Love
Updated: Mar 2
Yad Hashmonah, Israel
Recently we explored the parable of the “Prodigal Son” together in the discipleship program. In Luke 15, Jesus tells three different parables about things that are lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.
In the first parable, the lost, hungry sheep is in danger of never being able to return to the flock. In the second parable, the owner of a lost coin searches even in dark places to find it. The common people hearing these parables, poor oppressed sinners, could identify with hunger and darkness. We might find their equivalent today lost in clubs, pubs and parties – searching for some romance, some food, or some alcohol to numb the pain.
In our main parable, a father has two sons. The younger one asks to receive his inheritance even before his father dies. The father does not rebuke him, even though the request is scandalous. He allows his son the freedom to choose. Within a few days the son departs, and quickly squanders his whole inheritance on a life of debauchery in a distant land. Then a famine begins.
Desperate to find work, the son takes a job tending hogs. For a Jew this is unimaginable. He lives among swine – handling animals the Torah identifies as unclean. Remember, a man who is ritually impure cannot pray in public, nor enter God’s Temple.
This impossible situation makes him stop, take stock, and think about the consequences of his actions. An idea comes to him, “I will go to my father and tell him, 'I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired hands.’” He has reached the point where he is ready to repent and humiliate himself and become a servant.
In the two preceding parables, neither the sheep nor the coin had the option to choose a different life. They were simply lost! But here, the son has a conscience and the ability to consider and choose his actions.
When the son returns home, the father sees him from afar and runs to welcome him. What does this say about the father’s heart? He did not lose hope.
The father hugs and kisses him, and then the son says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you and I do not deserve to be called your son." He does not say, “make me one of your servants.” Because suddenly he understands that the father’s love is not a matter of negotiation or payment. He sees the depth and power of his father’s love. There is no place for punishment here. And so he surrenders to the father’s plan.
The father had not tried to dictate the son’s actions. The son had to experience the consequences of his choices and then the depth of grace, to fully understand how much the father loves him.
Where are we in our prodigal journey? Do we still think we can live without the Father? Have we already realized our need, but are still afraid to humble ourselves? Are we now ready to open our hearts and receive the Father’s love?