At church yesterday, my pastor continued his sermon series on redemption. This week, the text was Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal son. I’m sure some of you theology nerds are saying “Wait a minute, that’s not from the lectionary!” Lectionary?!?AtCollege Park, we don’t need no stinking lectionary. We’re a Baptist church, independence is how we roll, bitches. But, I digress.
Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you that the prodigal son is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I mean, it’s up there with Balaam’s talking donkey and Elisha calling bears down on some smart-ass kids. So, you can imagine my happiness when I saw the subject of the sermon. And, fortunately, though the bar was set high, I wasn’t disappointed.
In the story, we’re told that the younger son asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive (a grievous insult) and proceeded to waste it on what the KJV calls “riotous living”. This is one of the few times I prefer the King James translation over a newer one. Having done some “riotous living” myself over the years, I have a pretty good idea where all his money went. Anyway, just as the money ran out, he found himself in the midst of a famine. Starving, he took a job tending pigs and was so hungry that he wished he could share what he’s feeding to the pigs; which is pretty much the ultimate degradation to a devout Jew.
As you can see, his road back wasn’t easy. And, those troubles were brought on by his impatience and stupidity. While there are people who might argue that God brought him to this state in life to teach him a lesson, I prefer to think that God doesn’t make bad things happen to those God loves. God is not, however, above allowing those people to suffer the consequences of their actions to learn a lesson before showing them the way out of the dark. And, so it is here.
After the brilliant realization that things at home weren’t nearly as bad as he thought, the son decides to go back to his father’s house and ask to be taken on a hired hand, saying “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” As Michael (our pastor) said, these are words of real repentance, not the cheap grace that Bonhoeffer spoke of .
I love this story because it presents an image of the God I want to believe in, a God who loves unconditionally. It’s the story of a father whose child rejected him and everything he stood for (well, except for his money) and he welcomes that child back with open arms. There are no conditions, no caveats; just “Welcome home, son. I missed you so much“. It doesn’t get any better than that. Especially when you consider how much I have in common with the son,
Like a lot of the stories Jesus told (or the ones about him, for that matter), this parable leaves us wanting more. I mean, what happened after the father told his older son to quit being an ass and join the party? Did the younger son stick around or did he take off again after his memory became a little hazy? We don’t know, because the story ends so abruptly. But, maybe that’s on purpose. Maybe it’s up to us to fill in those blanks and keep it alive. And, maybe I’ll do just that in a couple of days.