In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the prodigal son, and how after some hard lessons stemming from his initial pride, and accelerated by desperate circumstances, he humbled himself and came home to his father. In Part 2, I discussed that the older brother was still at the point of pride, arrogance and self-righteous unforgiveness when it came to his non-conformist little brother. Today, I will focus on the father’s reaction to them both.
How the father’s heart must have hurt when his younger son asked for his inheritance early. It was like wishing his father dead. At the very least the prodigal was saying that he had no more use for his father’s love, wisdom or company. The only thing he valued was the money and the right to make his own choices. The father loved his son enough to give him his freedom. He did not want to force his son to do the right thing, though I am certain he would have welcomed his son’s wanting to do so out of love. That would not happen until some difficult circumstances changed the son’s perspective. When the prodigal son did come home willingly, and humbly, his father did not have to be talked into taking him back. The father’s love for his son was so great that he ran—not something that older men of the East were likely to do—to greet his son. I’m sure the son looked and smelled like he had been spending his time in a pig sty, but his father embraced him and did not even let him finish his rehearsed speech before he sent his servants to fetch the robe, ring and sandals, items that symbolized honour, authority and family status. And then the feast! The fattened calf was not just for a small intimate family dinner. The whole village would have been invited. Considering that the actions of the prodigal son would have brought shame to his family and his village and would have merited being stoned by those villagers (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), this feast would have been a clear message that his son was not only to be spared, but also restored to his rightful position in the family.
The father’s reaction to the older brother was just as compassionate. The older brother must have been certain that he was justified in making the comments he did, but he also was quite insulting to his father. The brother questioned his father’s judgement, and even though, according to tradition, the older brother would have received twice as much inheritance as the younger brother, he selfishly whined about not having enough. As a matter of fact the older brother now had it all. The father had given everything he had to his two sons, and the younger son’s share had been wasted. All that remained belonged to the older son. Surely if he had wanted to have a party with his friends before this day he could have had it. But what he wanted was all the attention, and he was not at all pleased that his father was giving some—a lot—of it to his younger, sinful, brother. Indeed, because of the older brother’s selfishness, the father left the festivities to come out and speak with him. The father did not chastise his older son. He didn’t tell him to stop whining and being selfish. He patiently answered him and showed love to him as well.
We need to remember that this parable (Luke 15:11-32) was shared to teach Jesus’ listeners about the grace and love that the Heavenly Father has for all of His children. That He cares for those that are lost, even when they are lost through their own willfulness. That there is rejoicing in heaven when a lost soul humbly admits his need for a saviour. And that those who think they are above reproach are actually in worse shape than those who know their need. All of this applies to us. Our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He sent His Son to make a way for us to come humbly home to Him. And He will welcome us with open arms. He will run to meet us if we will only take the first steps of the journey. He will not hold our past against us, or even the fact that we were sure we were right all along. All we have to do is accept His invitation to come home, and the rejoicing will begin.