. . . “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)
The parable of the prodigal son is so familiar, so comforting, such a picture of redemption and the nature of God’s forgiveness. It’s also so much more.
It’s a picture of expectations; of getting what’s coming to us, and then what’s not. It’s a picture of God’s Father-heart in the face of our corruption, confusion, and competition with each other.
Whatever our circumstances, God saw each one of us when we were still a long way off. While we were walking, running, or just crawling toward Him, He was running to meet us. He doesn’t wait while we try to get to where He is; He meets us while we’re still very far away. Having met us where we are, He doesn’t just say, “Glad to have you aboard.” He, the Creator of the universe, throws His arms around us and kisses us. If we didn’t realize before how much He longed for us to come home to Him, this should remove all doubt.
It’s not surprising that like this son, having realized our own unworthiness, our intention as we start out is to become a servant. But our Father isn’t having any of that. In coming to Him, our redemption is total. Jesus has paid the price in full. Our Father doesn’t want us to serve Him as slaves. He doesn’t want us to fall into the trap of trying to earn our own way. In elevating us to daughters and sons, He wants all that we do to come from our relationship with HIm, our love for Him.
The young man in Jesus’ story is so much like we are. As a boy struggling to become a man, he looked to the world around him and sought love and significance in all the wrong places. He thought money was the answer to all his wants. He was impatient and demanding. He felt entitled — that his father owed him and he shouldn’t have to wait for what was coming to him.
He got what was coming to him all right. He got used and then discarded by people as shallow as he was. His roll in the mud with the grasping and greedy was short-lived. He went from a figurative pigpen to an actual one. It’s to his credit that he came to his senses, saw the truth about himself, and decided to make the journey home. He didn’t go with hat in hand or with a pitiful tale or blaming anyone but himself. The lesson he learned was worth far more than what it had cost him.
The ultimate lesson was that, although he had squandered his material inheritance, he couldn’t even begin to do through the wealth of his Father’s love for him. That love is an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil of fade.” (1 Peter 1:4) It’s an inheritance each of us can access as His children, both now and in the future.
Jesus went a step farther in the story to highlight what is often a troubling byproduct of forgiveness. The Father’s heart is pure; His overriding desire is that we find life in Christ and live in loving relationship with Him. Our hearts, however, can be far removed from these goals.
The older son’s indignation is relatable for most of us. There’s no question his little brother had messed up in major ways. He, on the other hand, had always tried to do the right thing. Yet when this little twerp came crawling back, you’d think he was the best son ever in light of the giant party they were throwing. He himself had been working and slaving for all these years, but no big party for him. No little party either. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair. He had a right to be angry and resentful, and he planned to stay that way.
His Father listened to what he had to say. He reassured his older son that he was equally important to him. The celebration wasn’t about who was better or loved more; it was about life triumphing over death.
” ‘But we had to celebrate and be glad, this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “
Here Jesus touches on something that can be very hard in the aftermath of forgiveness: letting go. The younger son got what was coming to him in the first instance, but what wasn’t coming to him in the last. God’s sense of fairness doesn’t equate with ours. Ours is about keeping score; His is about keeping souls.
I think it’s significant that the father said “this brother of yours” instead of “this son of mine.” He’s reminding the older son that his little brother belongs to him too. This is a shared relationship that calls for a shared joy when a family member is restored. He also has a reason to rejoice. Should he really be resenting his brother’s reinstatement?
In giving me the right to become his child, God my Father gives me the right to become more like Jesus through the leading and power of His Spirit. He gives me the right to become more reliant on Him, more confident because of HIm, more trusting, more filled with His peace. He gives me the right to become more whole, and thus more holy. He gives me the right to break the influence of what Satan has set out to corrupt in me.
God my Father has given me the right to become who He created me to be. My prayer is that I’m exercising that right every hour of every day, unfailingly grateful for the great love He has lavished on me, that I should be called a child of God!