The return of the Prodigal to the Father's House
August 1, 2012
Jesus welcomed and ate with all sorts of people. When the religious leaders saw this they grumbled about the type of people that he was eating with and welcoming. Jesus responded with three stories.
First, he tells a story about a shepherd who has 100 sheep, and discovers that one is missing. When the shepherd discovers that the one sheep is missing he sets off looking for the lost sheep. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep he carries it home and then calls friends and neighbors to rejoice with him. Jesus says the same thing happens whenever one of God’s children turns towards home.
Second, he tells a story about a woman who has ten coins but looses one. She like the shepherd begins a search for the missing coin. When she finds the coin she also calls friends and neighbors to rejoice with her because she had found the coin. Jesus again says the same thing is happening in the presence of God. There is rejoicing whenever one of his children turns toward him.
The finally he tells what is perhaps the greatest story in all world literature. A story about a man with two sons.
On Sunday we only looked at the younger son and the Father so we should begin by noting that we didn’t even get to half of the story. The second half is definitely worth pondering. When you have a few minutes just sit with the second half of the story.
In the first half the younger son asks that his inheritance be given to him right then. In essence he is saying I can’t wait for you to die, dad – in fact I wish you were dead right now. This is shocking behavior by the son. But, what would have been even more shocking in a middle eastern culture is the behavior of the Father in granting the request. Listeners would have felt that the father should have immediately disowned the son and given him nothing. Instead the Father grants the request and the son sets off for a far country.
This passage beautifully captures flight from God. Flight from God leads to a far country. In the far country the son attaches himself to a pig farmer, but this attachment only leaves him more empty and longing to fill his belly with the pods that the pigs have already picked through. This is a haunting picture of life as we flee the Father’s House. It is a haunting picture of our tendency towards addiction, where we attach our souls to the created, rather than the Creator. Here we find ourselves still hungry now matter how much we consume.
In this midst of this the text says that the son came to himself. This wording is significant. What we find when we actually turn to God is that we become more ourselves. We set out in flight from God to find ourselves, but in the flight we discover that we actually lose ourselves. The moment of turning towards God we again actually become who we were made to be.
The son sets off for home. When he is a long ways off the Father runs to him and embraces him. This is breathtaking and scandalous behavior. The son should not have been welcomed! And at the least the Father should have waited to see if the son was truly sorry. But he doesn’t behave properly and respectively. He runs to his son, and commands his servants to throw a party.
This is a living parable. Jesus is telling his first hearers - this is what is actually happening right now. All these people that you are grumbling about, the ones who are flocking to me and eating with me, they have been living in a far country and now they are coming home, and all of Heaven is rejoicing.
May we be the people who return home ourselves, and reflect the heart of Jesus and the Father!