Summary: In this message, part 6 in series Return of the Prodigal, based on Christ's parable of the prodigal son, Dave begins looking more closely at the father in the parable.

The Father Welcomes Home

The Return of the Prodigal, prt. 6

Wildwind Community Church

David Flowers

March 20, 2011

There are two brief texts I want to use to start our focus on the Father in Christ’s parable of the return of the prodigal son. First obviously is the text we’ll be looking at in Christ’s parable:

Luke 15:20 (NIV)

20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Luke 15:28 (NIV)

28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

The other text I want us to look at this morning is this one:

Luke 13:34 (NIV)

34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Both of these texts taken together show us another side of God. You might call it the feminine side. I’m not trying to be provocative or make anyone uncomfortable, but you all realize God’s not a man, right? God isn’t male or female. In fact, we can easily conclude that God is both male AND female. After all, both men and women are made in the image of God. This is not just a philosophical observation – it’s essential to how we think about God.

So let’s start with the basic stuff first. Yes, God is referred to as Father in the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures. This, of course, is because this was a patriarchal culture. Women didn’t get respect. It’s one thing that the Messiah came as a poor carpenter. Had he come as a woman, he could barely have gotten the time of day, much less attracted the attention of the multitudes.

Yes, Jesus addressed God as Father. Jesus was a good Jew. Besides, the tradition is that Mary was the mother of Jesus, and God was the Father. This is appropriate, for obviously there is nothing WRONG with the imagery of God as a male. It’s not in the least bit wrong, it’s just incomplete. Men and women, being both created in God’s image, share equally in God’s character. Scripture bears this out, for just as we see traditionally masculine characteristics ascribed to God, such as God providing for his people, and God’s strength, and God’s leadership, we also see traditionally feminine characteristics ascribed to God, such as God nurturing his people, and serving them, and weeping for them.

Does it sound too liberal to talk about the feminine side of God? I hope not, because it’s a totally Biblical idea. In the final analysis, God is above and beyond WHATEVER we describe him or her to be and so it shouldn’t be difficult or offensive in any way to speak of God as she or her. In fact when we do this, it may be easier to think of God’s feminine qualities.

And it is both the masculine and feminine sides of God that I want us to look carefully at today, but perhaps we’ll give a bit more attention to the feminine side.

Look closely at Rembrant’s painting of The Prodigal Son.

Look at the hands. They are different from each other, and considerably so. We must not assume this is an accident for a painter of Rembrandt’s skill. He’s portraying something here. The Father’s left hand is on the son’s shoulder and is very masculine. The fingers are far apart. The bones or veins in the hand are prominent. There almost appears to be a little bit of pressure, which you might particularly notice in the Father’s thumb. With his left hand the Father appears to be not only touching, but maybe actually holding a little bit.

The right hand, on the other hand (!), is refined, soft, and tender. The fingers are close together and have an elegant quality. It lies gently upon the son’s shoulder. Henri Nouwen says it wants to “caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother’s hand.” Let’s refer back to the text I read earlier.

Luke 13:34 (NIV)

34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Jesus himself makes the comparison of God to a hen gathering, nurturing, and protecting the chicks under her wings.

The Father is not simply a great patriarch, but is mother as well as father. He holds,

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