GREAT MORNING BELOVED!
The Father in the Prodigal Son?
As I was looking at Father’s Day looming in the future, I was attempting to think of a different way to look at it.
We’ve all heard the traditional Father’s Day Lessons…so I wanted a different angle, if you will. And I came up with looking at the Father figure in the parable, “The Prodigal Son.”
We may know the story, but let me remind you….Luke 15:11-32.
Rev. Ed Townley states: “I think the parable of the Prodigal Son may be the greatest short story every written—and perhaps the clearest and deepest description of Jesus’ unique understanding of our purpose in life, and our relationship to our spiritual Source.”
Do you get that from the parable? What could be our purpose in life? And what about our relationship to our Spiritual Source?
Well, let’s see….
We have a spiritually bankrupted young son who finds his way home after suffering physically and emotionally. Could that be our relationship to our source?
After all, he took his inheritance, wandered far from his home, (to the far country, metaphysically he was in “material consciousness”) squandered the money on life experiences and finds himself alone, impoverished and forced to work at the most debasing job imaginable for a good Jewish boy—feeding pigs! He assumes that his Father must be furious at him—that by leaving home he has separated himself from his Father’s love.
Yet, what does the father do?
When his father sees him in the distance, he goes running to greet him. He never really hears the carefully rehearsed speech, but orders that he be robed and jeweled and shod and declares a celebration to honor his son, who “was lost and is found.”
So, a little background information: a Middle Eastern man never — ever — ran. If he were to run, he would have to hitch up his tunic so he would not trip. If he did this, it would show his bare legs. In that culture, it was humiliating and shameful for a man to show his bare legs.
If it was shameful for a man to run in that culture, why did the father run when his son returned to him? What motivated him to shame himself? Before we answer that question, we have to understand an important first-century Jewish custom.
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross HYPERLINK “http://www.amazon.com/Cross-Prodigal-Through-Eastern-Peasants/dp/0830832815″& HYPERLINK “http://www.amazon.com/Cross-Prodigal-Through-Eastern-Peasants/dp/0830832815” the Prodigal, explains that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among the Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The community would totally reject him.
He would be dead to them…
So, why did the father run? Maybe he ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village. The father runs — and shames himself — in an effort to get to his son before the community gets to him, sees him; so that his son does not experience the shame and humiliation of their taunting and rejection.
The village would have followed the running father, would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reunion of the son with his father, it was clear that there would be no rejecting this son — despite what he has done. The son had returned to the father. The father had taken the full shame that should have fallen upon his son and clearly shown to the entire community that his son was welcome back
WOW. What does that say about the father?
What happened then is “restorative justice.” The aim of restorative justice is to return the person to a useful position in the community. Thus, there can be healing on both sides. Such justice is a mystery that only makes sense to the soul.
Here are some of the virtues I see in the Father:
The father is patient:
His son had been gone a long time, long enough for a famine to ravish the land, yet the father waited patiently. We need to learn to be patient with not just our children, but in all relationships, knowing that we all have much to learn. And some lessons must be learned the hard way. We cannot learn the lessons for anyone, we can try to teach them. This son had to learn some hard lessons, and the father allowed it. The father allowed him to go off even though he most likely knew the perils of doing so.
And in this parable, the father simply waits for his son to return. The boy knows how to get home, yet does not want to, at least not until he reaped the consequences of his actions.
The father is a seeing father:
He saw his son struggling with restlessness. He saw his son longing to be free, and independent. He saw his son leave home on a personal quest for happiness. And then, he saw his son a great way off, coming back home.
The father is loving:
When he saw his son coming, while he was still a long way off, the father ran to him and hugged and kissed him. Imagine how the father felt after such a long time, to see his son again! He doesn’t ask him where he had been or what he had been doing, though he could probably take a few good guesses at the condition the boy was in.
There is no lecture saying, “I told you so” or “You should have known better.” There is no “I hope you’ve learned your lesson” speech. There is simply the love of a father and the joy that his son has returned. Love precedes all else.
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins,’ (1 Peter 4:8
The father is compassionate:
It only took a discerning look at his son to assess the trouble the boy was in. And after seeing his son, He had compassion, and it made a difference.
The father is forgiving:
His actions demonstrated it. The boy was ready to ask to be made like one of his fathers hired servants. Once the son had returned he was restored to his original place. Not only that, but they have a party to celebrate his return!
We need to learn to be forgiving. We should focus not on the wrong that was done (that’s a judgment) but on the joy that they have returned. So much sorrow could be avoided if we will simply learn to do this. And be kind to one another, forgiving one another.
The father has his priorities in the right place:
This father let his son find his way…not just back, but back into the family. Family is important in the Near East, as it is to many of us.
The most important thing was not that his son had left, nor that he had wasted his inheritance, or that he’d caused his father untold grief. The most important thing was that his son was home.
Material things can be replaced, sorrows can be forgotten, and missing the mark can be forgiven. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? (Mk. 8:36).
Where are your priorities in your life?
Where is the justice, we may ask, as if we are the older son? It is not difficult to see that from the older brother’s point of view, all this was injustice for the younger brother after having rejected the father, practically spitting in his face, he turned his back to the one who gave him life, demanded his inheritance while the father was still alive, squandering his father’s living in reckless living and when all was gone and he had no way to go but having reached the bottom of misery, by his own rebellious living, he would return home and instead of receiving just punishment for his reckless doings, he receives a sumptuous reward.
All this would seem to make a mockery of righteous and obedient living, flying against all standards of fairness. Surely this must have been what saddened and embittered the older brother. It just did not seem to be right.
The older brother should have been gladdened by the return of his young brother, but technically the situation seems a little unfair.
We see that the father, quite fairly, is prepared to do for the older son what he is prepared to do for the other. He saw the prodigal son from afar and understood the mental and physical state he was in, and even though he had done wrong the father went out of his way to meet him to provide consolation.
The same with the older brother, the father understood the turmoil inside him and even though his attitude was not good he went to him, listened attentively to his grievances, did not rebuke him, reassured and affirmed his position and patiently instructed this son.
The father assures him that he will always be with him and all that the father has belongs to him.
The important thing is the father goes on in explaining why the return of the prodigal had to be celebrated for after all, the prodigal was lost and dead, but now was found and alive and this was a great miracle.
Fr. Richard Rohr defines “justice as giving everything its full due.”
Each son received what was due him.
Each son could represent different aspects of the human heart, but their actions were equally damaging and hurtful to the father. In this parable Jesus thus depicts and exposes two patterns in us humans as we live in this dualistic world:
The wanton, selfish, pleasure-seeking of the younger son
The self-righteous, prideful legalism of the older son.
Looking back at our lives we realize that our attitude is very much like that of these two sons, most likely that of the older son. This parable uncovers our selfishness and haughtiness and should make us realize that each and every one of us is truly a prodigal or his brother
It is important to note that nothing is said about forgiveness, though it is often interpreted as a parable of divine forgiveness. The emphasis is entirely on the fact that the son has been restored to the family.
Actually, both sons were restored to the family. The worst part of this story is that neither son ever developed a relationship with his father. If the younger son had, he would never have left home. He never understood how much his father loved him. He never figured out that what was available to him at home was more than all the pleasure and money in the world. He would not believe that his father wanted the best for him and had great plans for him. He had lived with him all those years and never knew him!
And the older son, the father understood the turmoil inside him and even though his attitude was not good he went to him, listened attentively to his grievances, did not rebuke him, reassured and affirmed his position since the prodigal had already received and squandered his part, and afterward patiently instructed this son
He didn’t understand that it was not about who had been good and who had been bad, it was about who was dead and was now alive. It was not a matter of who was deserving, it was about who was in desperate need. In the older brother’s concern for justice, he overlooked his father’s concern for grace!
Both reject the love of the Father, but the Father comes to both of them to show them how much they are loved. The Father does not care what the sons have done, he only cares that they are there with him and he desires to give them all that he has.
Neither never developed a relationship with their father! (isn’t that what the song CATS in the Cradle is about?)
Whether you relate to the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that, eventually you are called to become the father.
Let’s take a moment to think…we all have a prodigal in our lives…maybe yourself, maybe a sibling. What comes to mind for me is my one middle brother, Mike.
We let him go his way, brought him back as often as he would allow it, tried being patient, gave him help as much as possible, then the tough love thing…and nothing helped him. He was on God’s time as many prodigals are. And eventually we lost him.
We must not despair if our prodigal does not return.
Sometimes all the prayers will not necessarily bring them back. And then, we must let go of any shame we feel, ask forgiveness for anything we have done wrong, and be willing to be authentic with others and ourselves.
Forgiveness does not mean that we condone that which is not good, but it means that we do not add to it by our condemnation or bitter feelings.
“Fathers are human. Sometimes they get it right and leave great memories and bless their families. And sometimes they get it wrong, just as the rest of us do. May I suggest that you appreciate your dad for what he did right and forgive him for what he failed to get right. Surely, you will want your children to do that with you.
Let’s close with this:
I’ll Be Like You
To get his goodnight kiss he stood
Beside my chair one night
And raised an eager face to me,
A face with love alight.
And as I gathered in my arms
The son God gave to me,
I thanked the lad for being good,
And hoped he’d always be.
His little arms crept round my neck
And then I heard him say
Four simple words I can’t forget
Four words that made me pray.
They turned a mirror in my soul,
On secrets no one knew.
They startled me; I hear them yet,
He said, “I’ll be like you.”
Happy Father’s Day!