Summary: The story of the Prodigal Son: a Journey into the father-heart of God.
It’s Father’s Day, and I want to spend a little bit of time looking into the Scripture that was just read, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, to see what we can see about the nature of God the Father.
We know that Father’s Day is a day of mixed significance to people.
For some Father’s Day is a problem because their dad’s were either not there at all, or were emotionally absent, abusive or worse. Some really don’t want to remember Father’s Day, because it’s just a source of pain.
But regardless of our relationship with our own fathers, there is a wonderful reality to ponder: that God chooses to have a relationship like that of a Father with us, with you and me.
The difference perhaps is that God’s fatherhood is perfect, not lacking on any level. So that’s why we’re going to spend time mining what this passage has to say about God as our Father in heaven.
As we begin to look at the story of the Prodigal Son, we are really looking through a window at much of the human story, perhaps we will see ourselves in the attitudes and actions of the son in this story.
And what I notice first in the story is the son asking for his inheritance, which is, sadly, very much like the son saying: “I wish you were dead, dad. Give me my money”.
As I see the son and watch the father’s response, one thing that’s clear is that the father, and thus God, is really not at all what you would call a controlling person.
The response of God to us wanting to do our own thing, even in complete defiance of Him, is to not refuse us.
It is not to contain us, to control us, to condemn us, to reject us.
The son in the story for all intents and purposes rejects the father. Like I said, asking for your inheritance before it is due is no different than wishing your parents dead.
There are those who say that the idea of God NOT being controlling and rather allowing free will is irresponsible, that it’s even a flaw that proves that God is not perfect.
That if free will is the cause of humans doing terrible things...think Hitler, think 9/11, think of any story you’ve read in the paper in the past week where anyone did anything bad to anyone else...
There are those who think that the “free-will defense” of God proves a flaw in God.
But let me ask you, because the story we’re looking at is a tiny example of God’s relationship with all of humanity, is the father’s willingness to let his son go, with the inheritance, wrong?
Should the father have said ‘no’ and thrown his son into a cell for disrespecting him, in order to contain him?
Some may say that would be the right thing to do. But this father said ‘yes’ to his son, and allowed his son to NOT sit in a cell just resenting his father and learning nothing about the world or himself.
This father said ‘yes’ to his son, and he allowed the son to experience what life is like.
He allowed the son to, as the story progresses, personally grasp what it’s like to be out of relationship, out of earshot, of the father, and then to do his own thing. Interesting.
So in the story, the son enjoys life...for a while. The narrative wraps up the son’s experience away from the father in just a few words, but we know there was more to the story.
It wraps up the son’s journey thus far in a way that captures the real gist of it. It says that after he got his inheritance he: “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living”. A few words covering a multitude of mistakes, of sins.
Then...then we’re given a picture of the son’s best thinking in the moment, now that he’s blown his inheritance. Not only had he wasted all his money,
but his best thinking, when he began to be in need, was to hire himself out to a farmer in that country.
Now, he had been a son, a son of privilege, a son who belonged, a son who was loved by his father. Now he’s a hired hand to a stranger.
He gets to feed pigs. In our culture, that’s not such a big deal. In the Jewish culture that Jesus was in, and to the audience who was listening, this was the lowest kind of degradation of a person. Pigs are unclean animals in that culture.
To be the one who fed the pigs, that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. And as he’s feeding these animals their food, he’s so starved that pig food is starting to look attractive.