In the last post I retold the story of the prodigal son, told by Jesus in the gospel of Luke in the New Testament. I ended with a question about how to live in the light of the love shown by the father in that tale. How to live believing in a God like the father who, in this story, loves so extravagantly the child who has behaved so badly. Whichever brother we may identify with, it’s a big ask. Once the party is over, little brother has to find his place in the household. And big brother has to adjust to sharing the nest again. The father’s feelings towards both of them are now clear and public. In telling this story Jesus describes a God who is not only willing to forgive us when we wander off, but eager to celebrate our return. A father who is not too high and mighty to pick up his robe and run towards his son when he sees him approaching.
The younger brother may have physically separated himself from his father and all that he represented, but there is an enormous emotional gulf between the older brother and the father. Whichever one we find ourselves relating to, the fact is that the father here loves both equally, has all his resources equally available to both. At the end of the story, the one who is furthest away from the household is not the one who left but the one who stayed behind, dutifully serving his time until his father’s death would release his inheritance. Living like a hired hand rather than a son.
Perhaps the premise of this story bears no relation to your experience of father, of home. It is a little foreign to most of us. But the father portrayed here represents an ideal we could all at some level recognise. A father who will love us no matter what we do or say, and display that love publicly, who will accept us and find a place for us and celebrate us and be delighted in the very fact of our existence. Who wouldn’t want that kind of father?
If you’re wondering why I keep harping on this story, it’s because it is a key story which describes how God presents himself in relation to us. It is as a benevolent parent whose fundamental attitude towards us is positive. There is no big stick in sight (though perhaps big brother might have wanted one…!) and no hint of retribution down the line. Jesus Christ made some wild claims for a man of his culture and time, one of which was to know God as intimately as a son knows his father. To be the son of God in a unique way which I don’t claim to understand and will not attempt to unpack here. If it really is true that God is like this, then I have to make sure I tell someone. If I believe it, that is. Which I do. That’s why I’m telling you.