20 “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
“Cursed is the man that feeds the swine.” That’s the commentary on Jewish ritual cleanness. The prodigal knew this, but when you’re starving, tradition is thrown out the window. It’s really hard to be spiritually correct when your stomach is growling. In verse 17, we see that the prodigal suddenly realized his condition. Notice the change:
It took sometime for this to happen. But it was a true and a complete repentance. A total alteration of his mind and heart took place at that point. And I must assume, when he finally made the decision to return, and I believe he didn’t even say ‘good bye’ to the pigs.
It’s the Father’s reaction that fascinates me.
How does God see us? Is he angry or frustrated? And yes, I suppose, there is ample reason for him to treat us with caution. Deep down, we know exactly how dark we are, and on a superficial level we realize our dirt doesn’t belong in heaven. And yet the father is in a party frame of mind. This is not rational.
In the parable, the son walks, while the Father runs!
And there were no tests given to evaluate the son’s sincerity. Did he really repent, or was it all for show? The text tell us that he was hungry, maybe he just wanted a hand-out? Did he meet the criteria needed for reinstatement? It amazes me, there wasn’t a 30 day waiting period to determine whether the prodigal had truly repented. No, the party started when the father hugged his son.
Do you see the “suddenness” of this part of the story?
At least for me, the pace quickens, and I imagine the whole household jumped up to get in the act.
Verse 10 explains the joy that reverberates through heaven at this, Just so, I tell you, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Joy seems to be the key thought to really get these verses. If we can’t see the text saturated with God’s joy we’ll never understand this parable. Its not hard if you can read it with excitement and anticipation. If you decide to do so, it’ll make a lot of sense, and it’ll be less mysterious.
This story is as much about the Father as it’s about the son.
In it we see the character of the Father revealed. We see his jubilation and excitement over his son’s return. Right from the start we see him running, (v. 20) moving to his son. I can see a weeping father giving his son a big bear hug and lots of kisses. He has hoped and dreamed about this moment.
Golly, there is so much to be said: there’s rings and shoes and roasted calves. But I think that the tremendous lesson is the joy of the father. It tells me much about what he’s like–and he’s not at all what I thought he’d be.
He’s the Father who is always moving, and he runs to meet us.
He’s the One who is filled with excitement at our return. (And honestly, aren’t we always returning?)