In One of the Bible’s Most Famous Parables, Who Are You?

This weekend’s Gospel readings in church came from Luke 15, my personal favorite.

Jesus is getting some grief from hypocrites who don’t like him breaking bread with sinners, and he responds with the “Prodigal Son” story.

We have a father, a son and the “older son”. The hot shot son wants early inheritance, gets it, and blows it. He’s broke, hungry and humiliated. The world chewed him up and spit him out.

He decides to offer himself as a field laborer to his dad, reasoning that, on his dad’s property, even the lowliest servant has a better life than the one’s he’s living.

Dad is over-the-moon glad to see his son, and has the biggest welcome-home party possible. Bitterly, the older, loyal son wants to know: what about me? All I did was obey!

The father’s explanation: “My son, you are with me always; everything I have is yours. But we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and come to life again; he was lost and now is found.”

There is so much here, about forgiveness, about rebellion, about sin and about redemption. Wiser people than this writer have analyzed it.

Hearing it again Sunday brought a fresh realization for me: until I became a dad, I didn’t fully appreciate what the father in the story felt when he caught sight of his returning son, “while he was still a long way off”. I think I “understood”, before. Now, that father’s experience stirs my soul!

If you take the joy and exultation a parent feels when an adult son or daughter physically returns, or comes to her senses, or returns to the faith—imagine how much greater the victory when we return to Our Father? One wonders if this parable was the “a-ha!” moment for some of Jesus’ listeners, who still doubted the boundless mercy and acceptance of God.

Far from greeting us with a lecture, or a “do-you-know-how-worried I’ve been?!”, we get waiting, open arms.

I often wonder who I am in this story: am I the father weeping tears  of happiness at his son’s salvation? Am I the son who went out in the world and fell into vanity and materialism? Am I the older brother, wondering if nice guys finish last?

Yes, yes, and yes.

How about you?

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