Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Prodigal Son

     In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a young man asks his father to be given ahead of time his share of the inheritance. The father agrees, though no doubt he knew the character of his son and realized that the course chosen would probably lead to disastrous consequences. The father in this parable, of course, represents our Heavenly Father, Who always respects the free will of his creatures and often grants that which we desire and pray for--knowing full well that we will live to regret it. (Thus the saying: "Be careful what you pray for: you may get it!")

Having received his inheritance, the son leaves his father's house and sets off for a far country (which represents life in this fallen world lived apart from God). Once he arrives, the son gives himself over to a life of riotous living--wine, women and songs. But because he doesn't get a job and has no source of income, he very soon finds himself completely broke. In spiritual terms, he does not strive to acquire those virtues necessary for salvation, that is, "treasure in heaven." To make matters worse, there arises a famine in that country so that there is nothing to eat, even if one had the money to buy it. So it is with the frivolous pleasures of this world: they soon leave us spiritually starving, since we are no longer receiving the sustenance of God's grace.

He's so destitute that he's finally forced to take a job, feeding corn husks to a local farmer's swine. Apparently this isn't much of a job, though, since he is not even allowed to eat a portion of the husks. In this dire state, he finally "comes to himself." (That is, he repents). He realizes how foolish he was to leave the security of this father's house. After all, even his father's servants have more than enough to eat and a roof over their heads. So he decides then and there that he will return to his father and ask to become one of his hired servants. He carefully rehearses what he will say to his father and sets off.

But when he is still a good distance from the house, the father sees him approaching and runs to greet him with a warm and loving embrace. Finally the son addresses his father with the words he had rehearsed, but the father reacts as though he hasn't even heard him. He orders his servants to honor his son and to organize a party to celebrate the son's return.

Now such unconditional acceptance was totally unexpected, and is in fact unlikely to occur in this fallen world. The mind of God, however, does not operate on the same level as ours. God's ways are not our ways. In Him there is no calculation, no remembrance of wrongs, no desire for revenge or reservations concerning the "worthiness" of a person. In Him there is no past to "remember," only the eternal present in which he encounters each unique person face to face. For in God the are no emotions, only a consuming love and a desire for the salvation of all His children.

The point is, we are all called to put on the mind of Christ, to strive to relate to others as God relates to us. Every one of us is a prodigal, but if we sincerely repent and resolve in our hearts to return to our heavenly homeland, God will meet us more than half way and treat us as though we had never left his presence. Indeed, there is more joy in heaven over a single sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous ones. True, we may well have to suffer certain natural consequences for our time of riotous living, but God Himself doesn't punish us, nor is His love for us in any way diminished.

So then, if God receives prodigals such as us with such unconditional love, how can we not forgive and forget the sins and offenses of an erring brother? And if he repents, shall we not joyfully embrace him and celebrate his return?

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