‘He was lost and has been found’
The Prodigal Son
There is a strange, paradoxical quality to the parables of Jesus. The settings and characters are from normal everyday life. The stories have a comprehensible and comforting ‘Sunday School’ feel. On the other hand, what unfolds is oftentimes anything but ordinary. If we are paying close attention, putting aside our pious expectations, we find an unsettling quality to them. It as though we were lazily watching a fluffy white cloud when it suddenly turns stormy, with the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightning.
The beloved parable of the Prodigal Son is a good illustration. Let’s start with its conventional title. Is this parable aptly named? Who is the true central character? Perhaps we need to call this tale the ‘Parable of the Loving Father.’ This would change the focus from the an emphasis on lostness, misguidance and sin to one of love, forgiveness and joy. After all, Jesus preached the Gospel, or ‘good news.’
Let’s say, then, that we adopt this approach. We come to another shock. This parable is not merely about repentance, as important as this is. Indeed, the turning point comes when, in the midst of his anguish and degradation, the prodigal son ‘comes to himself.’ (Luke 15:17). Nor is the parable merely about forgiveness, as essential to the message as that is. Actually, what is ‘prodigal’ – intemperate, lavish and excessive – is the Father’s boundless love and grace!
Why does the father run to meet the son? Should he not show a dignity and decorum more fitting his age and status? Why did he forgive the son before he even asked? Why did he not put the son on probation or have some expectations associated with forgiveness?
From an earthly point of view, events seem to spiral out of hand. Grace seems to make a mockery of justice. That is the whole shocking point Jesus is trying to make. This is undoubtedly what gave offense to the elder brother, who felt that the party thrown for his brother’s return meant that he had somehow been treated unfairly, equating his sinful brother with his own long-standing righteousness. The Scribes and the Pharisees were likewise offended. Does grace offend are sense of fairness as well?
The three parables of Chapter 15 of Luke-we might want to rename tham the Found Sheep, The Recovered Coin and the Loving Father – truly amount to a Gospel within the Gospels. They breathe of God’s unfathomable grace and love for humankind, telling of the lengths He goes to seek and save the lost. Even the elder brother even in his petulance and anger also receives his father’s loving care and concern.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. (2 Cor. 5:18)