Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pondering the Prodigal’s Father

There’s no denying the impact the Bible has had on society, even though some are reluctant to admit it. Even in what has been termed this post-Christian, increasingly secularized age, we can’t ignore its influence, both in profound and not so profound ways.

We have Christmas, which traces its roots to a simple, inconspicuous birth more than 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. We’ve borrowed the term “good Samaritan” from one of Jesus’ parables. We’re all aware of the Ten Commandments, along with phrases such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then we have the story of the Prodigal Son, another of Jesus’ parables, about a selfish young man who demanded his inheritance well in advance of his father’s death. This ingrate proceeded to squander his wealth, and then went back home, humbled and broken by his foolishness, reckless living, and gross disrespect for his loving father.

In non-religious contexts we hear of “prodigals,” people who in like manner return from times of rebellion. Countless books and messages have focused on the prodigal son. Writers and speakers also have addressed the sibling who remained home dutifully working for his father while the prodigal brother was engaging in a raucous lifestyle that culminated up in the company of pigs. They ponder how this brother responded when Mr. Prodigal came home to the welcoming embrace of their father.

But what about the prodigal’s father?

We don’t know a lot about him. We can only surmise. We do know the father surrendered the son’s share of the inheritance when it was requested. He could have refused, but didn’t. And we know when the family’s black sheep finally stumbled homeward, the father didn’t wait on the front porch, arms folded, mouth twisted into a scowl. He hurried to greet the son, enfolding him with unconditional, forgiving love. Then, so everyone else could share in the good news, the father called for a lavish, impromptu celebration.

Jesus’ telling of this story is recounted in Luke 15, along with parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin. Each account shows the sheer joy of recovering what was lost. And ultimately, in the prodigal’s father we see the response of our Heavenly Father, whom we have so often avoided, rejected, even attempted to flee. Yet, whenever one of His children returns – often bruised to the point of despair, much like the Bible’s prodigal son – God’s response is not condemnation or vindictiveness, but the same unconditional love and forgiveness.

Have you ever been a “prodigal”? Many of us have. And for a time we were able to convince ourselves we were doing just fine without God, And yet, as the psalmist wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…” (Psalm 139:7-16).

Thankfully, while we may give up on God at times, He never gives up on us. When we determine it’s time to return to Him, we find Him right there, eagerly waiting to receive us. Then we can say, as the psalmist concludes, “How precious for me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them…. When I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:17-18).

In Jeremiah 31:3 we’re told, I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” And that, for those of us who are inclined toward wayward, rebellious thinking and living, is good news. Really good news.

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