|With Joe LaRoy in Bangkok|
Most are familiar with Luke 15's "parable of the prodigal son." This famous and beautiful story would be better called “the parable of the father’s outrageous love,” because the central character is the dad, not the younger son or the older son.
About the Younger Son
He asks his father for his inheritance. This would have been a scandalous thing to do, since a son only received his inheritance after his father was dead. To ask for it while his father was alive was as good as saying to him, “Father, I view you as dead.”
What the son got was probably mostly land, not cash. He cashed in the land and spent it all in a foreign country on sex and who-knows-what-else.
It would, at that time, have been a son’s responsibility to care for his father in his old age. But now that he’d sold his father’s land it was like saying “Not only do I consider you dead, don’t plan on me taking care of you when you get too old to care for yourself.”
Finally, he comes to senses. He’s lost all his money, he’s an alien in a foreign nation who works feeding pigs, even eating the pigs’ food. He is at the bottom of the social hierarchy, an “expendable” person even below “unclean” people. No one is there to care for him. He thinks of his father’s love and rises up to go home.
About the Older Son
The older son, in the parable, represents the Jewish religious Pharisees. They are mentioned in Like 15:1-2 as being disgusted that “sinners and tax collectors” are welcomed by Jesus.
Jesus hangs with the lowly and poor and hungry and marginalized and weak and sick and blind and filthy and the prostitutes. The Pharisees can’t believe this! The older brother can’t believe it when his father runs to embrace and kiss his screwed-up younger son. He is shocked that the father throws a huge party for the kid.
The older son obeyed all the rules and stayed at home – so why doesn’t he get the party?
The older brother is scary-moralistic and self-righteous. His younger brother doesn’t deserve a celebration. If his father should kiss anyone it should be him.
In this the older brother is both right and wrong. He’s right that the younger brother doesn’t deserve his father’s love; he’s wrong in thinking he deserves it. The older son is an alien in his own father’s home, who does not understand how his father loves.
About the Father
In the parable the father loves both sons. He loves them with an unconditional love.
A conditional love says “I love you IF… you perform/look nice/keep all the rules.” But the love of this father, and by analogy the love of God, loves with no conditions or strings attached. God longs for both his sons to come back to him. He longs to celebrate the return of his children. And he welcomes them with loving, enveloping arms.
This is how God loves you. Unconditonally. No strings attached.
This is the love of the Father. For you and me.