Thursday, May 9, 2013

Luke 15:17-24

(This continues a parable from yesterday)

But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 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.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“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 has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Suddenly, with nowhere else to turn, the younger son remembers his father. While he lived his life of sin and revelry, he had done all he could to push his father from his mind. Completely homesick, he remembers that his father was a man of great kindness and compassion, paying even the day laborers beyond what was expected. Destitute and dying of hunger amid the famine of a foreign land, he has nothing else to lose. He knows that he will not be restored as a family member if he returns. Perhaps after years of penance and hard labor to earn back what he squandered... but he knows he should not even hope. Except for this one fact. Whereas most fathers would hold a funeral service and consider such a disrespectful, dishonest son dead, he knows that his father is compassionate. If he can just convince his dad to let him prove his worthiness as a daily hired man, perhaps his father will one day be able to look him in the eye.

He has his speech all worked out. He's been rehearsing it on the long walk from Gentile country. He has braced himself for the awkward and shameful walk through town. But his father is on the watch for him, knowing that eventually the son's choices would reach a disastrous end and turn his heart toward home. Unwilling to let his son bear a second more of shame, the father picks up the hem of his garment and sprints to his son. In Middle Eastern culture it was shameful to run and expose one's legs, but this father is not concerned about his reputation. He throws his arms around his filthy, smelly son and begins covering him with kisses.

The son begins his speech, but the father isn't listening. He instructs the servants to get the family robe, the robe saved for special occasions such as the oldest son's wedding, and wrap it around his malodorous defiled son without even requesting a handwashing. He places the signet ring of authority on his sons finger. He places sandals on his feet, an item servants or hired laborers would never receive to wear.

The meanings in this parable are clear. In this story the father represents God's behavior and feelings about repentant sinners. The son realizes he has traded the riches and generosity of the father for the fleeting pleasures of sin. He knows that the smallest pleasures in the house of his father are far better than anything in the world without him. The son approaches the father like most of us approach God when we repent. "I am so sorry. I am not worthy of your love. I am willing to work as hard as it takes to make it up to you, earn your favor, and just maybe become your child again. I'll do anything to be reconciled in some way."

But the Father doesn't work that way. There is no trial period or tests of worthiness. The moment we repent, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. We are justified immediately, without any need to get "cleaned up" first.

And all this brings the father great joy! He throws a party, killing even the fattened calf! Meat was a rarity in these days, and the fattened calf was reserved for the most special of occasions. The entire village is called to celebrate the return of the lost son. Just so, all of heaven rejoices when one sinful person turns from their sin. No works are needed to receive the full grace of God. We could not do enough good to outweigh our sin and earn his favor anyway!

"With Him the calf is always the fatted calf; the robe is always the best robe; the joy is unspeakable; and the peace passes understanding. There is no grudging in God’s goodness. He does not measure His goodness by drops like a druggist filling a prescription. It comes to us in floods. If only we recognize the lavish abundance of His gifts, what a difference it would make in our lives! If every meal were taken as a gift from His hand, it would be almost a sacrament."  - Haddon Robinson

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