Summary: Jesus’ picture of the compasionat father corrects many of our wrong images of God
Luke 15:11-32 June 27, 2004
The Compassionate Father
Verses 1-2 1Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
Our image of God speaks directly to our behavior to others. The Pharisees were arrogant and judgmental – Jesus does not go after their character, but their understanding of God’s character.
The story of the prodigal son or compassionate father speaks against lies that we might believe about God that would cause us to have wrong attitudes and to act wrongly toward others and ourselves.
Wrong images of God
The impersonal force of the universe
The tyrant – Zeus – someone we slave for out of fear of that ever-present lightning bolt
The harsh judge – meting out sentences for wrongs done
Santa Claus – a repository of gifts, with little accounting for our lives
Most of us need a revision in or image of God – & in that new understanding of who God is we receive healing in our inner being, in our relationship with each other and in our relationship with God.
Read the story
The picture that we have of God in this story is much richer than I can bring out, but I want to draw out a few points.
The God Who Runs
Jesus paints this picture of a father waiting desperately for his errant son to return. He is gazing at the horizon every chance he gets to see if his son is returning, and when he does see his son, before his eyes know it is him, his heart does, and he does as most undignified thing for a wealthy man – he runs to him. In this culture you did not run if you had wealth and rank – you paid someone else to run for you! But the Father is desperate to see his son return. And he runs to him.
God is not a cold, calculating engineer of the universe who set the whole creation in motion, and now sits back and watches it work, tinkers with it every once in a while, like I do my bike to make sure it’s shifting okay. No, God is passionately involved with his creation, and he is passionately involved with us – he is our father, not our engineer.
Jesus tells two other stories to correct the Pharisees’ image of God before he gets to the story of the Prodigal Son. In one, God is a shepherd who has 100 sheep and when he puts them in the fold for the night he finds that one is missing. He leaves the 99 in the fold and searches for the lost one. When he finds it, he hefts it up on his shoulders and brings it home and rejoices with the other shepherds that he has found the one lost sheep.
In the next story, God is poor woman who had ten coins – drachmas – a day’s wage, and she loses one. She gets out the broom and a lamp, sweeps the whole house clean until she has found the precious coin, and rejoices with her friends when she finds it.
Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “You might see sinners and tax-collectors, the scum of the earth, God sees the lost sheep, the precious lost coin, the lost son… And look! They’re coming home! They’re being found! REJOICE!
The father in the story doesn’t stop at running to the prodigal son, he runs out of the party to draw the older brother in. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that God does not just run to the prodigals, he is running after them as well.
Our God is a God who runs, he is a God who searches. When Adam and Eve sin and turn away from God, what is God’s first question to Adam? “Where are you?” “My child has left my presence! Adam! Where are you?”
Some of you here might think that you are searching for God, but God is searching for you!
The God Who Forgives
We so much want to have a formula in which we say the right words, or do the right ritual actions and God forgives us. We create prayers to repeat after the preacher, we formulate penance prescribed for each and every sin – and if we don’t have a priest to formulate the penance for us, we “self medicate” and make some sort of formula ourselves to gain God’s forgiveness.
This story blows any formula out of the water. The son has gone over his repentance over and over again in his mind as he makes the journey home. "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man." When he finally gets home he doesn’t even get the whole confession out and the father has already forgiven him.