Summary: Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us how to treat others: with freemdom to make mistakes, with forgiveness in second chances, and with favor out of unconditional love. God is the perfect Father, showing us all three. (Father's Day message)
Parable of the Perfect Father
Today’s story is probably my favorite in the Bible. I’ve shared it with you before, but never in the context of Father’s Day. Since the real hero of the story is the father, I thought it might be a good story to look at today. Let’s consider some gifts this father gives his kids that make him an amazing dad. And maybe we can give these same gifts to those around us. First, the father in the story gives ...
1. Freedom to make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect to belong to this family. It’s a good thing, too, because one son is an impetuous spendthrift and the other a prideful perfectionist. Let’s start with the spendthrift. He says to his dad, “I want my inheritance now!” which is basically saying, “I wish you were dead.” And unbelievably, the father gives him what he asks for.
Now we don’t know the whole story, but we can guess that the father knows his son needs to learn the hard way. Some kids are like that. They need the freedom to fail, so that they can come to their senses on their own.
This dad’s style—giving the freedom to fail—is a good style for dads, but also for moms, and for anyone in authority. My favorite commanders weren’t afraid of failure; they wanted their subordinates to take risks, to try something new. A zero-deficiency mentality is a recipe for disaster. The VA, like most of corporate America, is seeking to cultivate an innovative mindset.
And so it is with raising children. Tim Kimmel, in his book “Grace-based Parenting,” notes, “Grace-based parents don’t take their kids’ mistakes personally. When their kids do stupid things and the police knock at the door, parents don’t remind their kids of all the mistakes they’ve made. They say, ‘OK, let’s figure out what you’ve done and what the consequences are.’” (http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/blessing-your-child/grace-doesnt-just-happen)
You’ll know you’re a success as a parent if you can work yourself out of a job. You want your kids to become self-sufficient adults. My mother, in her later years, lamented, “You don’t need me anymore!” That was partly true. We were self-sufficient. And I told her, “Mom, you and Dad did such a good job that all of your children have good careers and healthy lives. All of your children know the Lord. What a great job you did!” But I also told her, “Yes, we still need you. We need you to be our biggest cheerleader, to reassure us—when we’re struggling with parenting or marriage—that it will turn out ok, that we’re doing our best.
This father gives his kids freedom to fail, and along with that he gives them ...
2. Forgiveness with a second chance. Forgiveness, by definition, is never earned. It is an undeserved gift. And so it is between this father and son. Since the dad notices the son a long way’s off, it appears the dad has been searching for his son, longing for his return. He can’t wait to forgive him, so much so, that he does the unthinkable: this patriarch of the family hitches up his robe and rushes to meet his son! This is so counter-cultural for a Jewish man to humble himself in such a way that it only points to an incredible act of loving forgiveness.
So what’s with the robe and the ring and the brisket barbeque? (The latter is a Texas translation.) Back then, you only killed the fatted calf on the most special of occasions, and then you invited the entire village to share in the feast. It was a block party! This father is saying to the whole world, “I don’t care what my son has done. He is still my son!”
But it isn’t just the younger son that needs forgiveness. This amazing dad pursues the older boy too, the one filled with sanctimonious, self-righteous pride, the one who has always done the right thing but with the wrong attitude. Dad is willing to give him another chance as well.
The best dads allow for second chances, as do the best moms and the best friends and the best spouses. Because we all know that someday we will need a second chance as well. If we’re not willing to extend grace and forgiveness to others, it may not be there for us when we need it.
Granted, sometimes we still have consequences for our decisions. In today’s story, the younger son finds his family again, but his inheritance is gone forever. So this means the older son is footing the bill for the party out of his part of the estate, which may explain some of his anger. But even with consequences comes reconciliation, as this father seeks to reintegrate both sons back into the family.