When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out 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 like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:17-20, NIV)
“Enough is enough - even the pigs are doing better than I am.” So reasons the prodigal son in Jesus’ story, as he makes up his mind to return home.
But what kind of reception will he meet? He’s taken his father’s cash and squandered it in wild living. As he starts the long journey, he is wondering what on earth his father will say about the family reputation, not to mention the distress he’s caused his parents.
So we hear him rehearsing his lines. “Father, I have sinned - before both heaven and you. I’m so very sorry. I know I don’t deserve to be called your son. But might you have a place for me among your servants?” As he gets closer to home, again and again he’s preparing himself for what’s bound to be a desperately difficult encounter. We can imagine him trying to polish his scuffed shoes on the back of his trouser leg, combing his unkempt hair, trying to freshen his breath, rehearsing those lines yet again.
So both son and reader are surprised by what happens next! 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. That wasn’t what he was expecting!
It is an astonishing moment. Have you seen Rembrandt’s painting of it? He has captured the father’s tenderness.
Still the prodigal says his lines, because he really means them: “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 is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
What a surprising outcome! Not confrontation, but celebration.
Jesus taught this parable in response to criticism from the religious experts of his day. They didn’t like the way he welcomed sinners. Here he shows the heart of God is for the lost. Twice in Luke 15 he says there is joy in heaven over each sinner who repents. What a message to the churches, to encourage us to look outward.
And doesn’t this message encourage everyone to go home to our Creator and seek, in Christ, his forgiveness: for we hear here the kind of welcome we’ll receive.
This week’s LIFE events are a marvellous opportunity for everyone to hear the good news about Jesus.
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