I have been reading ‘The Prodigal God’ by Timothy Keller and would recommend it to you. It’s only 130 pages long and if you’re interested, I’ve put a copy in the back room at Urban Junction that you’re welcome to borrow.
You won’t be surprised to hear that it is based on Jesus’s parable we call ‘The Prodigal Son’ although in many versions of the bible, it is called the Parable of the Lost Son. It’s in Luke 15:11-32. You may want to read it again.
Keller’s supposition is that there are two lost sons and that it is the father who is Prodigal.
The first son demands his inheritance and goes to party central indulging all his whims and fancies. This is a choice of great shame to his father as it disrespects his authority and desires for his son. Only when the money runs out, does the son realise that he would be better off back home. He knows that he has no right to be taken back on the same terms. However, his father astounds him by running to meet him – again putting aside his dignity as the patriarch of the family – and welcoming him back to the position he always had within the family.
For some of us, this is how we came to know God. We know we wilfully turned away from God and that it was him running to meet us, welcoming us back and offering us inclusion and acceptance without demands or conditions. It fills our heart with amazement and with joy and excitement.
For those of you who like me have always felt a little sorry for the second son, Keller would say that he is equally lost. Yes, he’s stayed home and done everything he’s been expected to, but he’s done it with a good dollop of resentment in his heart – out of duty. At the bottom, he feels his father owes him. His father also comes out to him and in this case takes time to persuade and encourage his son to see things differently – to join in the joy that his brother is home. Even though he will have to move over a bit to give him space in the family again. Space that the elder brother doesn’t feel he deserves.
For those of us who were brought up in a Christian home who have never done anything wild or outrageous but have tried to follow the teaching of the Bible, we need to look in our hearts and ask why we try to live well. Are we trying to earn our place with God? Do we feel God owes us? When our lives are difficult, do we feel God is letting us down and it’s not fair after all we’ve done for Him?
Just before this parable are the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin when someone searches high and low for something that is lost. In the Parable of the Lost Sons, no-one goes searching. Was that what the elder son should have done? Should he have taken the cost and hardship of going to seek for his younger brother?
Fortunately for all of us, Jesus has already come and taken the cost and hardship for when we get lost or choose badly. He is perpetually seeking us out and longing for us to love our Father God – not because there is anything we can do for him but because of what he has done for us. When we really take that on board, our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude and we start partying even now at the greatest feast there will ever be.