A Reflection on the Parable of the Two Sons

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9 July 2017 by romanin

     “And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and [attached] himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 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. 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.’ 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. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11–24 ESV)

I love this story. And as often as this story is referred to, many people say that this is a perfect parable of the gospel; of God’s love for us. The sinner rejects God, goes off, and when he’s lost his way, repents, and the father receives him back with love. But where is Jesus in this parable? Where is the savior? Where is the sacrifice to pay and atone for sin? I’d like to look through this parable closely, the savior is in there!

Beginning at the beginning, the story says a man had two sons. Both sons were with him. So, focusing on the younger Son, he is with the father, in a relationship with the father, still being blessed by the father. This is our initial state; the state in the garden. What we were meant to be! The father provides for his sons, he has an inheritance for his sons, they benefit from his protection and his everything. Then the younger son asks for his inheritance. It is important to understand that he is, in effect, saying, “I wish you were dead, I don’t like living under your authority, and I’d rather you gave me what’s coming to me so I can go.” If you are a father, I hope you are cringing. Jesus doesn’t say here, but I can’t imagine what anguish the father must be feeling. Of course we might all think of anger, but there also must be a deep sadness. To love someone who does not return that love is painful.

Amazingly, the father lets his son go. Perhaps there is some patient wisdom in this. If the father would have said: “no,” his son would have had to obey, but perhaps would have resented him for the rest of his life. The father says yes. God lets us go our way. But an offense took place, right? Most any father would say that the Son should stay and honor his father. In the same way, God, our creator, blesses us with life, and we owe it to him to recognize him and be thankful, but we chose to go our own way, and God allows it. However, I must think that this father, and indeed God, is in constant grief for his lost son, praying, hoping, waiting, longing for his son to return, longing for the relationship to be restored, longing for his heart to change.

And change it does. When the money is out, and when the friends are gone, and when the food dries up, the son realizes that everything that he thought he was, he wasn’t; everything that he thought he had, he didn’t have any more. In this place of complete lostness and emptiness, he remembered the one thing he did have: a father. And the one thing he was: a son. Isn’t that where we are in those most desperate moments when we cry out “Oh God!”? When a family member is dying, and we can think of nothing else, we pray. When we are in a situation where we might lose everything, we cry out. When the doctor gives bad news, we cry out. Even those of us who don’t believe! Deep within us, when all other hopes fall away, one hope remains: perhaps there is a God, and perhaps he’s good.

Despite this last bit of hope, he knows that he can never repay the offense that he inflicted on his father. He decides to return in shame and ask to be a servant, no longer in the position of son, hoping for mercy. But then the unthinkable happens:

“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.” (Luke 15:20 ESV)

This is stunning. Honorable and wealthy men, didn’t run. Especially not with their robes on. The picture is this: The boy’s father is about his normal business and sees a figure in the distance. He confers with a servant, discerning who the traveler might be. His heart leaps as he begins to recognize his lost son’s gait. Overcome with joy, he begins to stammer something like “It’s him! It’s him! Oh my son, my son!” He doesn’t even think; everything fades except the figure stumbling up the road. He tears off his outer robe, his glory, his honor. He hikes up his clothes and begins to run; scorning the shame of acting like this in front of his servants. He runs to his son, meeting him in his shame. The father humbled himself to a place of shame in order to meet his son in his shame. That is where Jesus is in the story, right there in the running father. The God-Man removing his glory in order to joyfully embrace the returning sinner.

The son here did nothing to save himself, in his mind, he would never be anything anymore but a servant, and that’s the best he could hope for. Jesus, coming down in the form of man, enduring the same that we endure, dying the death that we were supposed to die, and offering us a life we would never be able to earn. Jesus was the one that put the robe on the boy, and sandals on his feet, and the ring on his finger. Jesus made it possible for him to be a son again, despite his offense. And God absolutely celebrates, because of his love for us.

This makes Jesus’ choice to accept the cross not some begrudging reality that was part of the cosmic plan, but a choice willingly made for the joy set before him because of the deep love he has for us.

We were created to enjoy and know God.

We traded our relationship with him for earthly things.

We have dishonored God and shamed ourselves.

We recognize our folly, and in humility and little hope, turn to God.

Jesus, Joyfully comes down to take our place that we might be joined to him as a brother, restored to our rightful place in God’s house.

God’s love is amazing


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