Sunday, June 17, 2012

When my faith in a compassionate God falters

It's a story of stunning brevity, a scant 23 verses long and featuring only the barest of details, yet it evokes a storm of emotion.

The parable of the Prodigal Son.

You  heard it first as a child, and you've no doubt read it many, many times since.

I'm fascinated by this simple story told by Jesus to illustrate the compassion and unconditional love of our heavenly Father.  Talk about a stirring climax!

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 

 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 
   The father in the parable sees his son coming from afar.  Why? Did he just happen to be facing in that direction on that particular day? Of course not. Ever since the day his airhead kid gathered his portion of the family inheritance, packed up his stuff, and set out for parts unknown, his father has pined for him and watched for him at the window located on the uppermost floor of the house, hoping and praying for him to appear on the horizon.

 As the former Mr.Hardhead falls into his father's arms he utters his well-rehearsed line, but his father brushes it aside-- if, indeed, he even heard it at all. He calls for his son to be given a ring and sandals, signs of his status as son of the family, and tells his servants to prepare a party.

     Evidently, Jesus didn't have the macho hangups that we have today. The prodigal's father radiates unconditional love, something that we, in our stereotypical way of thinking, commonly associate with mothers.  When parents correctly perform their respective roles, mothers provide unconditional acceptance and love, while fathers provide authority and uphold the rules.  Hence, the dreaded maternal threat, "Just wait till your father gets home!" But there is no mother in the parable, perhaps because Jesus wants to challenge us to stretch our imaginations beyond society's traditional gender roles. Nothing else matters to this father except that he has his son back safe and sound. And none of this talk about demotion to the rank of hired hand.  Once a son, always a son. Sonship can never be lost or forfeited.

   I'm sure the extended family and neighbors had some choice commentary on this little episode. No doubt some of it reached the ears of this tenderhearted father.  And I'm sure he could have cared less.

   Not just today, Father's Day, but whenever selfish, heartless, ruthless persons dominate the news with their brutal actions that harm and even destroy others, I remember Jesus' story the father who loved his son unconditionally. And my belief is renewed in the existence of a good God, a Parent so much more compassionate than we selfish humans will ever be. And my resolve to go and do likewise is strengthened.
Thanks to Visual Bible Alive for the image of the Prodigal Son 

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