The Prodigal Father

Rembrandt Prodigal Son

The son asked for his inheritance, and the Father let him go.  Maybe the young man sought adventure.  He wanted to see, to experience, to know about the world.

If going off for an adventure were a sin in and of itself, then the father would never have allowed it. But he gave his son the money.  ‘You are a free man, my son.  Go as you wish.  The world is yours.’

This father, we see, knows something of the world himself.  He knows that the world is dangerous.  And hard to navigate all by yourself.  But also beautiful and full of enchanting mysteries.

How can we not like the adventuresome son?  He starts out full of himself, to be sure.  He’s insensitive to the feelings of his father and brother.  He is tragically unrealistic about himself.  But he has courage.  He has energy.  This world has something to offer, if only we go looking for it!  Let’s have some fun!

Likable, yes.  But what’s missing?  Self-respect.  The one thing he doesn’t see is that the most wonderful place in the wonderful world is his own home.

Let’s imagine the prodigal son in the first tavern along the road.  Someone there says to him, ‘Hey, you’re a barrel of laughs, buddy.  But aren’t you…aren’t you Lord Such-a-one’s son?  The most noble, gracious, and beneficent man in this country—isn’t he your father?  Don’t you and your brother stand to inherit the great estate?

‘Gosh, here you are carousing with us.  But couldn’t you have champagne and music and everything you want—within reasonable limits of decency and religion—couldn’t you have it all right there at home?  Gosh, I remember reading in the paper that you were supposed to marry Lady So-and-so—beautiful, virtuous, mysterious, and demure.

‘Isn’t that who you are, buddy?’

So then the son crept out of that tavern and proceeded to travel farther away, to find a place where no one would know him.

Our rebellion:  The heavenly Father erects a home for us to live in, with faith for its beautiful floorboards.  He builds this house for us, full of light.  We get to share the house with people who really are not so altogether annoying–each other.  This house has order and peace, because our heavenly Father governs it.  He gives us what we need.

Above all, He gives us a certain hope:  Everything that you want, the desire that grips you in a way you can’t even understand:  You will have it.  You will be satisfied.  Do not doubt it.  Your real adventure involves saluting the sun in my sky every morning, doing your daily work, saying your prayers, and loving your neighbor—and then all will be wonderfully well, forever.

We can see where the son got his prodigality.  The father himself gives with prodigal generosity–lavishly, extravagantly.

But somewhere deep in the darkest basement of our souls, a sinister voice whispers:  ‘You don’t deserve it.  It’s too good for you.  You aren’t really a prince of this realm.  Take a walk, and find your own kind.  In the gutter.’

In the end, the adventurer’s money ran out.  In the sty with the unclean beasts, he thought to himself:  ‘What kind of adventure is this?’  The world runs its course, and its pleasures do not satisfy.

But the lovable young man still had one thing left:  himself.  He paused.  He stopped.  He found a moment of silence and truth.  And he saw into the center of himself, where he finally found the true basis of his self-respect:  a compass pointing to his father.

The compass had always been there; the son just hadn’t looked at it.  He had ruined himself by seeking pleasures that were beneath him.  But now he took notice of the inner compass, and he remembered that his home stood waiting for him.  He could still find shelter under his father’s beautiful roof.  And he finally understood that his own home really was the most wonderful place in the world.

Here’s a question.  Where is the image of Christ in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?  Aren’t the parables supposed to include an image of Christ?  After all, we see Christ clearly enough in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which can also be found in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke.  In the parable of the Lost Sheep, Christ is the shepherd.  But where is Christ in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

Christ crucified actually lights up the parable of the Prodigal Son so that we can see what’s there.  We see the lordly, generous father, so prodigally generous that he won’t even listen to his son’s entire confession of sin.  Instead, he just starts the music and pours champagne, because he has his son back home again.

How do we know that this unfathomably gracious and loving father is our Father?  How is the face of the infinitely merciful heavenly Father revealed?  One way:  Christ crucified.  Christ crucified is the light that shows us that the prodigal son’s father is our Father.

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