Grace and Peace to you.
There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property. …
…But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” …
Now his elder son was in the field… and he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “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.”
— from Luke 15.11-32
Notice that the sons act exactly alike. Each one:
– scorns his father
– removes himself at a physical distance
– expresses a desire not for love, kinship or blessing but goods
– make judgments of his worthiness
– expresses bitterness and brokenness
– attempts to break his family ties
– is not prepared to receive what the father offers
And the father treats them both exactly the same, regardless of their behavior, obedience or status, anything we might call “righteousness.” Both times the father
– goes out from the house to the son
– expresses kindness and joy
– refutes the son’s judgment
– offers more than is legally “due” the son
– turns the focus from goods to relationships
– re-establishes the son’s family ties
– invites him in to the house to celebrate
The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward,” as many believe (based on our tendency to join the brothers in making judgments). It means wastefully or recklessly extravagant, extraordinarily generous, giving “prodigiously.” The term was meant to refer to the younger son’s lavish living—but it’s really the father who’s prodigal, isn’t it? The father extends generous grace and love to both sons when neither of them “deserve” it.
Coming on the heels of the story of the lost coin and the lost sheep, this is clearly the Parable of the Lost Sons. In his judgment, selfishness and bitterness the older son is as lost to the father as the younger one was. When we judge ourselves or others, measuring our supposed “deserving,” we have left the family; we’re in a foreign land far from God’s perfect, all-including love.
This is the Parable of the Prodigal God who only wants one thing for all of us, regardless of how inappropriately we judge ourselves and one another: God wants us back. God wants us close. God wants us to be family with God and with on another. That’s all.
Our “righteousness” is not a measure of our goodness, obedience or worthiness; it’s a measure of God’s love for us. It’s our good standing in God’s eyes, determined by God’s love, not our behavior. As Paul says, it’s “not a righteousness of my own but one that comes from God” (Phil. 3.9).
This is not just a story about how we ought to repent. It’s about God’s desire for us, God’s absolute generosity in the face of our brokenness and betrayal, God’s immutable joy and faith in us, God’s pure love, unalloyed with even a bit of wrath, condemnation or despair. In light of this, repentance is abandoning our judgments about “deserving,” and saying yes to God’s ridiculous, unfounded love.
While we are still far off the Mother sees us and is filled with compassion. She runs to us and puts her arms around us and kisses us. She rejoices:”You, my child, were dead and are alive again! We must celebrate!” Before you go in to the party in amazement, hesitate just a moment in her warm, enveloping arms. Soak in the love. Feel the joy. Take in the wonder. Let it tell you who you are, in this moment and for eternity: God’s Beloved.
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