Yes, the son strayed, yes he repented and came back to his father, but we must take notice of Jesus’ descriptions of the father in this story. First, we see the father’s generosity and willingness to allow his son to do as he wished, in spite of what the father probably knew would be his son’s reckless choices. Rather than keep his son bound to him by holding his wealth over his head, he allowed his son the free will to do as he wished. In the context of Jewish culture at that time, a son asking for his inheritance would be enough for the father to immediately disown the son, so Jesus’ example here was truly shocking. Still, the father grants his son the courtesy to turn away from everything he taught him.
After the son decides to return to the father, we see that the father is already looking for his lost son, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…” The father was not merely hoping his son would return one day – he was busy looking for him every day! Further, the father did not wait for the son to come to him, the father ran to the son and embraced him. What a welcome, what a greeting! The son, who had squandered everything, could not lose his father’s love nor could he lose his father’s unconditional acceptance, his grace!
And after he greeted his son with love and welcomed him with open arms, what is the first thing the father does? Does he make his son beg for forgiveness? No! The first thing the son does after meeting his father is to confess his sins, but the father ignores him because his forgiveness was already complete, the son merely had to take one step toward his father to complete that forgiveness. So what does the father do? Does he rebuke him? Again, no! Instead, he puts a robe upon his son – signifying that he is clothing him in righteousness (like Jesus’ blood, hiding the filth he had accumulated), the ring signifies that the son is (still and again) his rightful heir and the sandals mean that the son is no longer a prisoner of the earth – he is no longer a servant of earthly desires and ways, he now walks with the father.
Much to the consternation of the lost son’s older brother, the father then commands a great celebration to begin immediately. I think this is where many of us sometimes find ourselves – we are so preoccupied with keeping God’s rules and the appearance of righteousness that we forget that we already belong to Him. All He has is ours for eternity. We let our petty jealousies and self-righteousness get in the way of our worship and fellowship with God and we sometimes look on our brothers and sisters as unworthy of God’s love and acceptance. If we truly are in fellowship with God and view all people the way God does, we would want to bring in as many of them as we possibly could by showing love, even when we find the other person unlovable. The heavenly celebrations will never end – and we will be in the thick of them!
The Prodigal Son – the title suggests we focus on the son’s actions, and while many of us can no doubt relate to his (and his brother’s) actions, the picture that this parable paints in my mind is of his father, OUR Father – eagerly waiting and watching for you and for me, greeting us with His arms fully extended, scooping us up in His holy embrace. Enveloped with His perfect love and complete, perfect peace.
The only thing we have to do is take that one step, one…. single….. step – in the form of recognizing and believing what Jesus did for us on the cross. He’s waiting for you, won’t you come on in?