Summary: The love of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son reminds us of God's extravagant love for us
“The Love of a Father”
The Prodigal Son is possibly the most familiar story in all of Scripture. It at least ranks in the top five. Why is that? Could it be because it is such good news for us? The story is told from all different perspectives but I want to concentrate on the Father this morning. Now Jesus told this story in response to a criticism by a Pharisee that he associated too much with sinners. So, he asks and answers the universal question that people have been wondering about since the dawn of time: What is God like? How would you describe God, Jesus? You are his son and he is your Father. Don’t we all wonder what God is like?
We have this judgmental God portrayed in the Old Testament that has carried over into some of the modern day churches: A God who always looks over your back, waiting to catch you in the moment, in the least little mistake. A God whom you fear like an abusive parent who is unpredictable and the child never knows which personality the parent will wake up with this morning: will it be all sunshine or will it be a tornado? Some children live on pins and needles. So do some adults. Certainly God judges us but through the eyes of Christ. Since Christ came, there is a lens through which God sees his creation. It is predictable, not abusive, or trying to catch your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.
So we could say that some bad theology has remained from the time of the Pharisees to our time: Theology that as I stated before makes us afraid of God, like the little child is at the angry outburst of a parent. The Pharisees ranked sins and the more sin you had in your life the greater the hatred God had for you. I wonder if there were even some sins that banned you from God all together? There were even some professions that banned you from God: prostitution, tax collecting, and being a shepherd. These were viewed as unclean jobs.
So, around these images of an Angry God Jesus says, “Wait a minute, let me correct your thoughts of God.” And who knew better than God’s own son? The Pharisees were just waiting to nail him on his response. They knew the Law, they had the tradition, and they were God’s chosen. Jesus was just this weak little figure that spent his time with sinners and taught slanted theology, but they would give him a chance to speak, if for any other reason, to damn himself even more. How refreshing is the story of the Prodigal Son?
The son represents us in many ways. He is part of a family and has an inheritance, or a vested interest in the family. And one day the son becomes curious. “What would it be like to strike out on my own? To leave the boring fold? To ask for my inheritance and fend for myself in this brave new world? I love my father, but I don’t need him. Therefore, I will ask for my money and be my own man making it in this world on my own.” Isn’t that some of what the son thought? And don’t we have an inheritance with God and human nature tells us to withdraw our funds and fend for ourselves in this world, because we are independent, we don’t need parenting by God, and we can make it on our own.
How sad this must make the Father. He will let us go, but how he knows how much we still need him as a foundation, in times of trial, in times of danger. Any parent knows this. The rebellious child that is 18, can embark on the world, and is free to make their own choices. They may follow in our footsteps and go to college or get a good job – or they may take whatever is left of their inheritance they have received over the years and get involved with the wrong kind of people: Those that you have tried to protect them from all their life. But now it is their life, their choice, their consequences. And like this son, teenagers are not always the best equipped to make decisions without the guidance of their parents or whoever might fill that role. And certainly, God can fill that parent figure role for those who don’t have parents.
Let me tell you about a woman named Karen. Karen's alcoholic and abusive father abandoned his family when she was two years old. Every Father's Day Karen's mother made her write a card to the father she never knew. He never responded. Although he never accepted her, she found a different way to fill the void. She learned at church that God could be her father. Whenever she went out to play on her roller skates, she yelled, "Hey, God! Look at me!" She felt a special awareness of God's presence, as if He were smiling at her from heaven. Rather than focusing her attention on the man who abandoned her, she directed her affection toward God, who is a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5). Although she never received approval from her earthly father, Karen found security through her heavenly father. Karen has developed a healthy image of a father even though she was abandoned.