“Jesus continued, 'There was a man who had two sons,'” Luke
The Party Animal and Mr. Responsible were polar opposite siblings. One lived life large with the intensity and a tad more duration of a Fourth of July fireworks finale. The other didn't make waves, obeyed implicitly and kept score. Add to the mix a father whose actions were totally out of line with the social conventions of his day. What a weird bunch.
The parable of the Prodigal figures prominently in the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Many identify with one of the brothers, and on occasion, with both. Emphasis placed on the boys allows us to overlook and consequently under appreciate the real focus of the story – their father.
It's understandable. Not everyone’s been a parent but we've all been kids, and not perfect ones. We had episodes of irresponsible behavior and questionable activities. Our efforts to produce stellar results at times left us feeling dissatisfied, unrecognized and under appreciated.
All have a father in some form or fashion. Whether present or absent; involved or disengaged; loving or cruel – we all have a dear old Dad. How many have read this parable and said, “Hey, that's my Dad!” What parent can immediately say, “That's me!”? I’d guess not many.
Parenting isn't for cowards and at times it's a thankless job. 24/7 on-the-job training, there's nothing that prepares you for this role. Some fathers are exceptional, others mediocre and lackluster. It's easy to ignore this father because we have no grid for the kind of love he demonstrated. Had we acted like the younger son would we have been met with an over-the-top display of love and affection when we crawled back home? Some would have gotten their clocks cleaned; received the silent treatment or been hit with barrages of “I told you so.” Go ahead, throw in a guilt trip for good measure too. Did your efforts to be a good, obedient kid provide you unfettered access to you parent's resources? The father's actions can be hard to understand; they're so foreign to our experiences. He’s easy to ignore and when we do that we miss the whole point of the story.
The Prodigal's father symbolizes our Heavenly Father. In my up-bringing God was portrayed as the anti-Santa. He had a list, checked it more than twice. Heaven help the naughty ones. Judgment, in the way of punishment, always loomed on the horizon. Others have been introduced to a God largely absent, unavailable and apathetic. Misconceptions and misinformation about the personage of God abounds and sadly flourishes. We go through life missing out on the greatest love we can ever experience.
This father was generous; gave all his possessions to his boys. He loved the son who squandered the inheritance as much as the dutiful, responsible yet unappreciative brother. When it was time to celebrate he wanted the whole family in attendance.
I encourage you to go back and re-read this portion on scripture and to meditate on the father's role. How does he compare to your dad? How does that comparison affect your beliefs about and relationship with your Heavenly Father? Is it possible you've missed out on God's true nature? Ask Him to reveal who He is in your life in the context of the story. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised as you meet your real Dad.