Summary: There are some stories that are so wonderful they leave us feeling blessed just by hearing them. The story of God's extravagant love is one such story.
There are certain stories that at the moment you read them or hear them they have the ability to really tug on the strings of the heart. They are so moving, so beautiful that you can’t help but feel blessed just by the mere fact of having heard or read them. This is exactly the way I felt when I first read a story from January of 2016 that was reported by multiple media outlets. It is a story about the mother of an autistic boy and their experience at their local Apple Store in Green Hills, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. This story comes to us by way of a Facebook letter that this mother posted after their experience.[i]
"Dear Apple Store, Green Hills,
I’m writing to let you know how great your employee was to me and my son, James, yesterday when we came to the store to buy a new iPad.
On Thursday, James and I made our way to the Apple Store in Green Hills. While looking at the iPads James must have seen something that sparked his interest in the mall, and he took off running full speed out the door. The problem was he wasn’t at the door, but at the clear glass wall. He slammed into the wall full force which knocked him over. The entire store gasped as they heard the sound of James’ head hitting the glass and then the floor.
I ran to him and tried to comfort him. James has a very high tolerance for pain, so his tears and ‘fat lip’ were brief. Mine however were not. As I hugged him sitting on the floor your employee came over and sat down next to me. He asked if he was okay and if there was anything he could do. I think it was at this point that he realized James had special needs.
'I think we’re gonna be okay,' I said. 'But it looks like he’s gonna have quite a goose egg on his forehead.' Your employee asked, 'What can I do for you?' (I wanted to ask for a margarita or a donut but I was pretty sure they didn’t have any of those in that secret back room.) I said, 'Well, we actually came here today to buy an iPad which was donated to James, but if we’re going to proceed would you be willing to sell it to us and set it up… down here on the floor?'
And so he did. Your awesome employee sat with James on the floor of the store and set up the new iPad. There are no words to accurately describe how grateful I am that he took the time to ‘meet us right where we were.’ He didn’t have to sit down on the floor with us. He could have easily waited for us to stand. Could have easily waited for us to come back another day. But he hung out with us in the midst of our pain. He even got a fist bump from James…
Life is a learning journey. And I walked away from this experience with the reminder to always meet people where they are at. It's so easy to be so focused on our own mission or plan (or sale) that we fail to see what people really need. I long to be better at this. I long to not be so self-absorbed that I never miss an opportunity to love exactly like someone needs in the moment.”
Being in the moment with someone in the midst of their pain, frustration, and sadness—their most vulnerable moments—is not something we hear about all the time from the mainstream media outlets. This message of extravagant love that we hear in the story of James and the Apple Store employee is the same message that we hear from the Scripture lessons assigned for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. A message of the extravagant love that God has for all of humanity.
While all the lessons we have for consideration this week show us the extravagant love of God in some way, the one text that shows this best in my opinion is the story from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus tells the religious leaders of his time who were so concerned over the “type” of people Jesus was spending most of his time and ministry with; the story of The Prodigal Son[ii] or as I prefer to call it: The Prodigal Father.
Growing up hearing this parable of Jesus’ I came to believe that the word prodigal meant wasteful. The son was wasteful in how he lived his life, how he handled the inheritance from his father. According to the Dictionary the word prodigal can mean wasteful, but there is a much richer definition as well. Simply put the word prodigal means extravagant, but it is also synonymous with being profuse in giving and exceedingly abundant.[iii] When defined in this way we find that the word prodigal can also be applied to the actions of the father. After all the disrespect his son had shown his father with demanding his half of the inheritance and then going and frivolously wasting it away, the father still runs out to his long-lost son as Scripture says, “while [the son] was still far off.”[iv] I don’t know about you, but to me that is pretty extravagant. But that wasn’t all. The son’s father goes even farther with his extravagance by throwing a lavish party to welcome his son back, even though, as the son himself admits, he was not worthy to be called the father’s son any more because of how he had acted.[v] This was extravagant love. This was the father meeting his son in the midst of his pain and misfortune, even if said misfortune was self-inflicted.