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The story of our lavishly forgiving, abundantly generous, welcoming-arms-around-us, kissing, party-throwing father in heaven.




Unfortunately, the Gospel appointed for this Sunday is what most people call the story of “the prodigal (or “lost”) son.”  You can read it here in the New Revised Standard Version or here in The Message paraphrase.

I say it’s unfortunate that most people call it the story of “the prodigal son,” because the prodigal (lost) son isn’t really the point of the story.

The point of the story the way it is in the Bible – the point of the story the way that master storyteller Jesus tell it – is the story of “the forgiving father.” 


Jesus was indeed a master storyteller.  So let’s assume he knew what he was doing when he made the main character of the story the father, and not the son. Listen to the way Jesus begins the story:

“There was a man who had two sons…”

If Jesus wanted the main character to be the lost son, he’s have started the story differently, perhaps with, “there was a son, who had a brother and a rich father…”

No, the main character of this story is the father.

And the story is a parable. It’s a metaphor, an analogy…a story that conveys a truth – no, the Truth – about the nature and character of our heavenly father.

It’s as if Jesus was saying here “LISTEN UP FOLKS: YOU WANNA KNOW WHAT GOD, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS LIKE? I’LL TELL YOU.”

As my colleage the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts will explore further in her sermon on Sunday, it’s a story that practically explodes with good news: Good News of Desire, Destination, and Determination.   

And we need to hear that Good News. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of Christians (and even worse, preachers) who engage in false teaching about God – people who preach the blasphemy of a stern, angry, unforgiving God, when that is NOT the God Jesus revealed, taught about, and incarnated.

Read the story: God is a god who not only knows our weaknesses and sins, but allows them – as carriers of grace.

Read the story: When we’re far off, and start turning back to God, God is not only NOT offended by our sins, but “while [we] are still far off,” God sees us, and is filled with compassion.

And runs out to us.

And puts his arms around us.

And kisses us.”

Read the story: when we come back to God, God clothes us with the best outfit he can find, kills the fatted calf, and fires up the dance band.

Yep, you’re reading that right: when we sin and start to return to God, God’s reaction is to throw a lavish party.

That’s the story we’ll hear Sunday: the story of our lavishly forgiving, abundantly generous, welcoming-arms-around-us, kissing, party-throwing father in heaven.

Wow.

Comments

  1. Thanks, John! Well said.

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  2. Thank you, Sam, for reading and for the compliment.

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  3. Wow, indeed! Thanks for the reminder. I often get so bogged down in commiserating with the other son that I forget about the unbridled joy in this passage.

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  4. Thanks for reading, Nancy. Yes: the other son seems to be in the story as a reminder that "God is not fair" and our best response to that notion is "yeah, thanks be to God!" -- in other words, we don't get what we "deserve" -- we (like the other son) get far, far better than that.

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