Friday, October 26, 2012

The Parable of the Extravagant Father

Most recent Bibles (published in the USA, at least) have section titles added by modern publishers to help us find specific text and to mark off the boundaries of important Bible sections.  The title of Luke 15:11-32 is usually, "The Prodigal Son" or the "The Lost Son."  The International Standard Version subtitles it "The Story of the Loving Father."

The story IS about a son who left home, lived a riotous life, and returned broken to his father who received him with joy.  It's a story of redemption.  But it is also about a father who loved his son even when he did not deserve it.  If I were subtitling a new version of the Bible, I think I would chose "The Story of the Extravagant Father".

It is easy to look back over 20 centuries and miss some of the cultural cues in this story:

  • The sins of the son against the father were immense -- breaking of relationship, kicking a financial leg out from under the family business, consorting with prostitutes, and living with pigs 
  • The father ran to his son -- that would have been a very undignified thing to do for a rich first century patriarch.
  • Put the best robe on him -- the father restored his identity as a son with a treasured family garment.
  • Put a ring on his finger -- the father restored his authority in the family business.  Rings were a symbol of authority.  They were not inexpensive.
  • Put sandals on his feet -- the son was barefoot, or poorly shod.  People with money had sandals; slaves and the poor often didn't.  
  • Killed the fattened calf -- we eat fattened beef all the time today.  In the agricultural society of first century Israel, the fattened calf would have been reserved for special occasions.  It would have been too expensive to eat them regularly.
From my perspective, the real punchline of this story is the amazing love of the father.  Jesus painted the story for His listeners in such a way that they could not possibly miss that the father's love went beyond what they would do or expect. 

Jesus was telling His listeners and us in parable form what the love of Father God is like.  He doesn't want to punish -- like the father in the story He is watching and hoping for us to return.  When we repent of our sins, even big ones, He forgives and restores us to the family.

If you have walked away from God and lived in a way that grieves His heart, you can turn back today.  He will come running, just like in the story Jesus told!  

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