There’s a familiar Bible story that I’ve heard since I was a little girl. In most Bibles, the heading above this story entitles it: “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Now, since the headings aren’t inspired, I think I’m going to change mine.
To me, our focus shouldn’t be on the prodigal son, but on the gracious father.
When I was growing up, I was always frustrated by the prodigal son. I couldn’t understand why he’d make such poor choices. Why would he break his father’s heart? Why would he waste his money that way?
As the years have passed, I understand far too well why he made these choices. I’ve watched the wretched pain prodigals have brought themselves and their loved ones and I’ll never understand why, and yet I do understand why. It’s the heart.
The heart is always prone to wander from the Father’s goodness.
The story presents two sons. Not the good son and bad son. There are two sons; both have equally damaging heart issues. It’s just that the younger son’s sin is more glaring and flamboyant, its consequences are greater, and the damage broader in scope. The older son’s sin is a simmering quiet pride and ingratitude that is easily masked as “righteousness.” The older son could’ve fit right in with the Pharisees. The younger son would’ve been at home with the “sinners.”
But actually, both sons are equally sinful.
Jesus told this story because the Pharisees were grumbling about the draw Jesus was having on the wrong crowd; the sinners. We could focus on the fact that the younger son was incredibly selfish, horribly ungrateful, and terribly debauched. No surprise there, with the right circumstances and a hardened heart, any of us could easily end up in the pig pen.
We could focus on the response of the older brother when he was told of his younger brother’s repentance: resentment, anger, vengeful, and disrespectful.
But instead, I like to focus on the father.
The father in this story represents our heavenly Father and that’s why I like him so much. He is gracious and watchful for the return of his child.
The younger son had basically told his father “I wish you were dead” when he demanded an early inheritance. Shortly after receiving his wad, he took off to party and basically live for himself. He wasted his life totally. After all his money was spent, providentially a famine came, bringing harsh circumstances and a wake-up call.
In his brokenness, the prodigal determined to return home, confessing his sin and seeking the father’s forgiveness.
This is my favorite part of the story. The father had been watching for this son for a long time. He never gave up hope. He never stopped loving him. He never turned away—he continued to watch and wait for his return. That’s how the father was able to recognize his returning prodigal when the son was still “a long way off.” The father had never given up on his son’s return. And the father’s response is a picture of God’s amazing grace.
The father literally ran to embrace his son.
In the culture where this story occurred, dignified fathers never ran. “Righteous” fathers stoned rebellious sons or at least counted a worthless son as dead. And they never received a prodigal back into their home. Under no circumstances would they embrace a returning rebel and certainly not kiss him. He would receive no welcome, no costly robe and ring, no shoes or celebration. No mercy.
But the Father is full of grace and mercy.
At our slightest turn toward the Father in repentance, His mercy comes running to meet us.
I want the Father’s heart. I want the heart that welcomes the prodigal home; that assures him there is a safe place in repentance; that graciously provides for his return.
I want the Father’s heart.