The translation of the Bible I am using, the New International Version (NIV), calls the story in Luke 15:11 the “Parable of the Lost Son”.
I can identify with the pain of this story on some level, because my daughter is on her way back to her adoptive country Australia today. You may have someone you love dearly, and because of circumstances, are not able to be with them as much as you would like. When you do get to see them…all that matters is what is right before you. Old problems are insignificant. Current issues must be resolved quickly. Time is short. Each second counts. Forget personal needs like sleep. When our kids are home, the focus is on them.
So, when I read this story in Luke, some call the Prodigal Son, I understand the father’s love.
If you don’t know the story, Jesus tells about a man who had two sons. One of the sons comes to him and wants his inheritance “early”, before his father passes away. He takes the money and runs off, to another country. He picks up some scurrilous friends along the way who help him spend his money on whatever they can imagine will give them pleasure. When the money is gone (along with his friends), he has to find work, any work, to feed himself. He ends up working as a farm-hand feeding pigs. He’s so hungry, he dreams of eating the pig’s food, but can’t even have that.
The way Jesus words verse 17 is so interesting, “When he came to his senses”. It suddenly dawns on the son, that his father would treat him better as a hired man. So he goes back to his dad.
The use of the word “prodigal” can be applied to either the son or the father. The word prodigal is defined as lavishly or extravagantly doing…either in a negative sense such as the son, or the crazy love of the father.
The son must have looked dreadful. His life was living with pigs. When we lived in Iowa, the farmers would fertilize with liquid pig manure.
For miles around, the aroma would fill the air in the spring, as the farmers would “shoot” this delightful substance across the fields. I can’t imagine what this man smelled like after living with pigs! The other piece of the puzzle is the Jewish culture. Not only were pigs an unclean animal not fit to eat, but to be around this animal and their waste material would require a cleansing and purification period prior to engaging in any physical contact.
Contrast this with the father. Men in those days wore flowing garments. He was also a landowner, a man of distinction. None of that matters as he gathers up his robe, maybe tucks it into his belt and RUNS to his son as he sees him coming. Now, remember the smell, he could have stopped ten feet away and said “welcome back, let’s get you a bath and some clean clothes!” Instead, he “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 (NIV)
The son blurts out his well-rehearsed apology, “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:22-24 (NIV)
The father fully accepts his apology, probably a long time before he even hears it from his son. He immediately restores his son to the family. The robe, ring, and sandals restore his position as son. The meal seals the relationship. Totally undeserved, the wasteful son is restored into the family.
As Jesus was telling this story, “I wonder if it was so quiet in the crowd, you could hear the wind blow, as the people understood the connection. The heavenly God we have been worshiping is this same loving father who is running towards his child.”[i]
Do you need for a loving father to wrap his arms around you today? He will. He has already forgiven whatever it is you think is too “prodigal.” Your heavenly father already paid the price to restore you to his family. He allowed the blood of his son Jesus to be poured out as payment for our rebellion.
[i] Mitchell, Victoria L. Thicker Than Milk. Pittsburgh, PA: HyeINK, 2017, Kindle 1088-1089