This week’s lectionary (a set Bible reading for churches) was the Prodigal Son. This is a very familiar story to anyone who has read the New Testament or attended church regularly. Jesus tells a parable about a younger son asks the father for his share of the inheritance NOW, then the younger son goes out and spends it on “riotous living,” ending up broke and starving. He decides to return home, hoping to get a position as a servant, but instead the father welcomes him with open arms and throws a party for him. The older son is jealous and resentful of this lavish love shown to the younger son.
Most of us church-goers identify with the older son in the story. After all, we are the good people, the righteous who follow the rules. We follow God’s laws and have loved and served him all our lives. Throwing all that away is incomprehensible to us – how could someone value God so little? Some of us might identify with the Prodigal Son – the younger son – because we know God’s extravagant love for us. God is always willing to forgive us and welcomes us with open arms no matter what we have done.
As I listened to the story and the sermon yesterday I found myself wondering about the father’s point of view. How it must have hurt the father when the younger son couldn’t wait for him to die to wash his hands of the family. I wondered why the father would give the inheritance to the younger son early. Is he one of those fathers who can never say no? Was he hoping to teach the son a lesson? Had the son whined so much that he was glad to get rid of him? In those days, most of what the father had would go to the oldest son anyway. How big was the inheritance that the younger son received?
The one thing I didn’t wonder about with the father in the parable of the Prodigal son was the welcome the younger son received when he returned home. As a parent you always hope to be reconciled to your children. You hope that they will grow and mature and come to appreciate what you are giving them. As Christian parents, our greatest desire is for our children to love God and not throw away the opportunity to have a relationship with our heavenly Father. If you have a child who has rejected your values and run away, you are always looking out the window, hoping and praying for their safe return to the family.
I am blessed with parents who have always welcomed me home, no matter where I have been or what I have done. I am also blessed that they taught me about my Father who loves me and wants me to live in that love every day. I am privileged to be the oldest son who has always lived secure in the knowledge of the Father’s love and care. I pray that I will never resent God’s generous and extravagant love to sinners, because I need to remember that I am one.
We may be obsessed with fairness – part of our human nature – but God is not. He runs to us, joyously extending his loving arms to every one of us. And it doesn’t matter whether we come back to him from far away or from the next door field where we have been harvesting his crop. Our Father always loves us and welcomes us home.