The story of the son who took his fortune and headed to the big city to waste it away is well known. Luke 15:11-32 is where it can be found. This isn’t so much the story of the son who left for the city, nor is it about the older son who stayed home to serve the family. This is about the father. It’s about what was important to him.
The build up to this story is found in verses 1 & 2: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
Faced with this self-righteous attitude Jesus tells the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin and the lost son. Jesus is portraying the Kingdom of Heaven to His listeners. In all the stories there is rejoicing for the recovery of the sheep, the restoration of the coin and the return of the son. In all three we see celebration and joy in the community. The father doesn’t rehash old history with his son. All that matters is that his son has come home to the place where he belongs. When the son returned the father got him cleaned up and once that was done there was no knowing that this son had just returned. He didn’t smell like pigs and he didn’t look anything like what he did moments before. In fact you wouldn’t have known where he had just come from.
We learn about our heavenly Father. The Father is waiting, even anticipating our return to Him. Everyday He’s looking for it. When it happens He’s so filled with joy that there’s nothing more important for Him than to get us cleaned up, fitted with fresh clothes and to throw a party on our behalf. The son thought he was going to need to do some explaining and perhaps even beg a little or at best barter a deal with his father. People see their return to the Father the same way. In fact many don’t even think He will take them back. Others think that they’re going to need to work off their debt. While still others think that if they beg and plead hard enough then they might get a hearing.
What it took for this scene to play itself out well was the decision of the son to return home. The father was waiting for him arms wide open. Once the son got to the gate one more thing happened; the son acknowledged his wrong. Said in another way, he confessed his sin. This was the key to the celebratory reunion between father and son. Between myself and the Father. If I get to the gate where the Father is waiting for me but don’t want to acknowledge that I’ve sinned there’s no going through. I’ll be left looking over His shoulder at “my home” but that’s as far as I’ll get.
The point of these stories wasn’t the repentance of the son. The point was his return home and the celebration that resulted. The Pharisees were angry that Jesus was welcoming and eating with the sinners. People who hadn’t followed the right path in life. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be part of their crowd but Jesus would have no more to do with them than he did with the sinners. For Jesus everyone has value and everyone deserves a party. He even included the Pharisees in his short story to make it clear that if they wanted a party then he was more then willing to give it to them. Just don’t limit it to their neat and tidy circle.
There was no difference in the outward appearance of the two sons after the father had finished up. In fact he might have looked better! And he certainly was filled with gratitude for how he was welcomed back.
When you read this story of the two sons with whom do you identify? Does the Fathers responses to his two sons satisfy you?