Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”
This Sunday I’m preaching on the story of the Prodigal Son (or as I prefer to call it – The Story of the Love-Crazy Father). It was the assigned text for this Sunday and also happens to be my favorite parable told by Jesus.
For most of my life, I focused predominately on the prodigal son. Because I get him. I am him. Most of my faith journey with God has consisted of me sneaking back to the pig pen to stay the night because I feel like that is where I deserve to sleep and exist. I felt so unworthy of the outrageous love of my Father and the lavished banquet He wants to throw for me. I thought that my big brother was right to be mad that I didn’t get justice but rather mercy. But now I know that the love crazy Father is the heart of the story.
It is really only recently that God has convinced me that I actually hurt Him by my refusal to receive His love. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilize us. God is the father who ran to His lost son when he came limping home. God is the one who interrupts our lame apology speeches in order to get the celebration started.
Oddly, it is because I love Him so much and can’t stand to hurt Him that I was willing to try receiving His love without pity or pride. To learn to enjoy Him and His extravagant love.
Like the confused and self-hating son, I’ve thought my restoration will come in my repentance. But restoration is only found in love – sincere acceptance of God’s overwhelming, foolish, unexplainable, unmeasurable love. Running into the embrace of our merciful Father who has been pacing on the road waiting for us to come home is the ultimate finish line. Believing that the minute the Father saw us limping home, His joy at our return erases every pain from our earlier departure is the beginning of our new life with Him.
God has never asked or wanted me to earn His love. It is laughable to even think it is possible. But beyond laughable, it is hurtful to Him whose only desire is to love us with a crazy, over-the-top love. If my niece or nephew held my love at bay because they didn’t think they deserved it, it would crush me. If a friend didn’t let me love on him or her with small, unexpected surprises, it steals from me. God’s lavish love has nothing to do with my worth but everything to do with His love. His only desire is for us to receive His love and live out of that great love. Our restoration and the restoration of others will follow.
Repentance is an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace. (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, 75.)