Summary: The loving father in the parable of the Lost Son gives us some great lessons in love.
Lessons in Love
June 19, 2005
“Bad dad.” That’s what my six-year-old son Ben calls me when I say or do something to discipline him. I know, those of you who have older kids are thinking, “It’s only begun.” Being a parent isn’t easy, and to be truthful, everybody’s dad is flawed in one way or another. They are too strict, or too lenient, or too distant or workaholics. We all long for a father we can love and admire. Those of us that are happy with our fathers are so because we are wise enough to love him despite his faults as he loves us. Yet the notion that there is someone out there who can straighten out all of our problems is appealing. TV shows of the fifties had such fathers such as Robert Young of Father Knows Best. This show was an early sitcom in which the plot would revolve around a variety of small problems that could finally be sorted out in the end by dear old dad. But Robert Young never was unemployed, laid off, downsized, outsourced, overworked, or underpaid. He never cheated on his wife, never arrested, never had to provide long-term care for his aged parents. He didn’t do drugs and though the real Robert Young was an alcoholic who finally got sober, the television version never struggled.
The dads in the Bible weren’t like Father Knows Best. They struggled. Their flaws stood out enough to be recorded. Isaac cannot even keep up the customs of his own people in giving his estate to his firstborn son, Esau. Jacob, his brother tricks Isaac and winds up with God’s promise and the Promised Land. But Jacob is no great shakes as a father either. He has twelve sons and most of them plot against one son, Joseph and sell him into slavery. So Jacob is not a great father as he is not able to manage jealousy and homicidal rage in his own family. Israel’s kings fare no better, David commits adultery and murder, and finally is forced into a civil war with his own son Absalom.
Even in the New Testament, there aren’t many shining father figures. Joseph is good to Mary but we have no stories about what kind of earthly father he was to Jesus. The one story we do have is about him losing the young boy Jesus altogether in a busy town.
But Jesus tells a good story about a great father recorded in Luke 15.
Then he said, "There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ’Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’" So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. "That brought him to his senses. He said, ’All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father. "When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ’Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ "But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ’Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. "All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ’Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast— barbecued beef!— because he has him home safe and sound.’ "The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ’Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ "His father said, ’Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours— but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’ " Luke 15:11-32 (Message)