Sunday November 9, 2008 | Greg Boyd
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. “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.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus teaches about the love of God. Instead of using his power to force us to choose what’s best, God loves us so much that he gives us room to cause him pain in our relationship with him. And then when we do, he waits for us to return to him and runs to meet us. God runs to us because he loves us more than we can fathom.
Jesus tells a third parable in this chapter, this one much longer and elaborate than the first two. In this one, it is of a nobleman who had two sons. In the first century, sons stayed on the estate, worked, and took care of their father when elderly. Then they would have inherited the estate when their father died. To request his inheritance was a statement of wishing his father was dead.
The father could have tried to make him stay, refused to give his inheritance, or threaten to withdraw altogether. But instead he gives him his inheritance and lets him leave. He does not force his will upon the son. This is exactly what God is like. He’s omnipotent, but doesn’t use that power to coerce us. He gives us space to hurt Him, ourselves, and even others because love can’t be coerced.
The omnipotent God wants a relationship with us, but He doesn’t do it by getting big and lording over. He does it by getting small. God gives us space to go our own way despite pain. Instead of flexing muscles, He lets our sin crucify Him on Calvary. He humbles Himself, He serves us and He bleeds for us.
The son thinks he has endless wealth and wastes all he has. He flushes it down the toilet and ends up feeding pigs, even becoming so hungry that he eats the pig food. In this state he comes to his senses. Too often today we’re settling for the food of pigs when our Father wants to throw us a feast! We are living like slaves to the American system when God wants us to live like children of the Kingdom.
When the son came to his senses, he developed a speech to recite to his father. While still a long way off his father runs to him and does not even let his son finish the speech. Instead he interrupts him and starts giving instructions for party preparation.
The son hurt the father by telling him that he wanted him dead, by wasting his wealth, and now he returns ruined. Everything is the son’s fault. But the father says nothing of these things. There is no speech, no groveling, no repayment plan, second class status, no work your way back into good graces. Just a kiss, an embrace, restatement and a party. God is like that. He’s a God who gives us space to love Him, but also reject Him. He gives room to squander our lives in stupid living and waste all His blessing. He’s a God who is hurt, but who continues to watch, wait, and hope. And when we come to our senses, He’s a God who runs, embraces, kisses, robes us, puts on the family ring, provides sandals and celebrates. He gives instantaneous and joyful acceptance and restores us to full standing.