What does the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son tell us about God? Everybody identifies with the son who made the demands of the father and then went his own way, spent through his inheritance, found himself in a dead end, no where job working for someone who did help him out at all and was so hungry he was ready to steal from the pigs! Not only that but nobody wants to picture themselves as the older boy who, while he remained at home, was just as bad off as the brother who went away. The elder brother was consumed with what his father had done and allowed his brother to run off with his share of the money and other things from the house. After all he was going to be the one running the show somewhere down the road. The older brother always did what was expected of him: h always went to work on time, he never got himself into financial or girl trouble. He was the perfect son... or so he thought.
What about the father though... what of his hurt, of his life and generosity in the face of the unruly and self satisfied children? There are two things that we need to keep in mind about the father and thus about God as we approach this parable: (1) watch how he deals with the child who wanted everything and had nothing but an empty tummy, empty life and a broken heart at the end of it all and (2) see how he intentionally goes out to seek the older son who has refused to come in and celebrate with his father and so the father goes out to the older boy and tries to draw him in. Can you see yourself in either of these two boys? God can.
I can see the Father going out the end of the driveway and hanging on the gate as he looks down the road in suspense, waiting for the return of the son who has cut himself off from the family; for the child who has chosen to live life away from all that is familiar, not just the things, the rules he doesn’t like. He waits hoping to get a glimpse of the form of the younger child as he comes over the rise and his form shadows the setting sun behind him.
I can see him also go out to find the older boy who is refusing to come in to the house to welcome home his wayward sibling. The son is storming around a small glen trying to gather and bundle enough wood so that he can build a small fire to warm himself and cook supper later. I can see the father pursuing him, pleading with this child to come in and recognize that his brother is a changed man. Things will be different now and to live this new life within the family the younger and the older will need each other. All that the older boy can consider is how his younger brother walked away with everything and how badly he treated the family... why he should celebrate his brother’s return when he has treated his family so badly?
Can you see the nature of God in all of this? Actively pursuing and waiting for us to turn away and come to him? God gives mercy and grace to the wandering prodigal while loving and encouraging the dutiful and obedient child to make full use of everything that he has to offer him.
And let me say a word here about grudges: they are what you would wish for everybody else but would never ask for yourself. Thus we get resentful towards others and wish that we too had what they had Instead of celebrating with them, we choose to build walls with resentment and distain. So as part of our Lenten discipline let us make forgiveness a part of our everyday life. Let us make forgiveness, mercy an act of reconciliation and then allow forgiveness to be a habit of restoration between us.
Most of all, remember that the Father calls us all home, whether we have been away by ourselves or have been out doing our duty. God calls us to himself saying to each and to all of us: “Fear not; I have redeemed you and called you by name – your are mine.” (Isaiah 43.1)