In this famous story, there are three characters: a father and two sons. Let us examine the story from the perspective of each of them to see what we can learn about the nature of God and his love for us.
First, the younger son. He treats his father appallingly and also shames his brother and the whole family. He grabs what is to be his only after his father dies. Basically, the message is: Dad, you’re only worth to me what you are worth financially, so let’s have the money now. Having so dishonorably acted, he then goes far away from his father and proceeds to waste the money. Easy come, easy go. But, then, when he is at his wit’s end, he remembers the kind of man his father truly is. Even his father’s hired hands are treated better than this! So he returns to his father with his prepared speech. But his father runs to him, embraces him, throws a party for him, puts a ring on his finger, and welcomes him home as fully restored and completely forgiven! What love is this! How overwhelmed must the son have been to have been treated in this way!
Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, come home. There is no sin too bad, no offense too severe, no crime too horrible, that if we come back to God he will not run to us and embrace us in his loving fatherly arms.
Second, the older son. The older son, having worked so hard all those years, is incensed when his father welcomes back his younger brother. How dare he give him a party! How dare he celebrate when he has behaved so badly! Surely, I deserve more than that. I never had a celebration, and now all that effort is going to welcome home that scoundrel brother of mine! It is no wonder he is aggrieved. But he does not understand the miracle of grace. That the love of God lifts us up, reaches out to us, and by God’s Spirit transforms us. The older brother wants the younger brother to pay for his crimes, to be punished for his sins, and to receive the recompense of his evil. Instead, the younger brother is welcomed back with arms open wide.
Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, let them come home. It is easy for those who are religious to begin to feel that they are better than others. But the older brother is equally disobeying God. It is as possible to disobey God by anger and rejection of God’s children, as it is to disobey God by wanton loose living. The one (loose living) is actually easier to spot, and sometimes easier to repent of. But to repent of being self-righteous? Of all pride, religious pride is the most difficult to cure. But remember the older brother! Don’t stand in the way of God’s grace to other sinners like us.
Third, the father. How hurt he must have been to have been treated the way his son treated him! It is sometimes said there is no sacrifice in this story, no atonement, but the pain of the father is sacrifice in principle. He carries the burden of the pain of rejection. He carries the burden of the pain of the shame of running to greet his son in welcome. He carries the pain of the rejection of grace of the older brother. And how gracious is this father still! How loving! How filled with compassion and joy! This is what God is like!
Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, come home.
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