Deep Dive into Jesus' Prodigal Story Part 5: The FatherSep 19, 2023
If there's one thing that this "deep dive" has given me, it's an entirely new understanding of the Father in Jesus' story. Where I once thought Jesus was simply telling of how an entitled son made a ridiculous request, and his father granted it, now I understand that no request would ever be made and if it was, everyone listening to Jesus that day knew that such a request was a
Then, if such a request ever were made, there was not a father in Israel (Judea or Samaria) who would have granted such a request.
But this father did.
Here's how Bailey reflected on the father's behavior,
"What then can be said of the father, who by granting the request did what no village father is ever going to do. The expected reaction is refusal and punishment. Knowing what the request means, the father grants freedom even to turn away from him. William Temple has somewhere said that God grants us freedom, even to reject his love. But in addition, the father remains the father.
He does not sever his relationship with his son.
The relationship is broken because of the son's act, but the father still holds out his broken end of the rope in relationship hoping that the other end can yet be joined.
In so doing he suffers.
If the father had disowned the son, there would then be no possibility of reconciliation. The father's suffering provides the foundation of the possibility of the son's return."
Bailey goes on to say that when Jesus told this story, He introduced a new way to understand His heavenly Father's love. Unlike the patriarchal father of the middle east, who would never stoop low like this no matter how much he loved his son, the father in Jesus' story chose to posture himself in such a way that his son could return home.
Look back at the final sentence in the quote, "The father's suffering provides the foundation of the possibility of the son's return."
What was it about this father that made it possible for his son to return?
The father broke all kinds of village "rules." There are more rules he broke that we will discuss a bit later. But for now I want to consider the question I've presented because it might help some suffering parents today.
What was it about this father that made it possible for his son to return?
According to Bailey,
"The father's suffering provides the foundation of the possibility of the son's return."
Romans 2:4 says this,
"Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing[a] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?"
Paul reminded the Romans that God's kindness...more than His righteousness, or His wrath, His justice, or even His majesty, is what leads people to repent. What is it about suffering that demonstrates the kindness that leads to repentance?
The father's suffering was birthed in his son's "death wish." His suffering continued when his other son failed to be a mediator. The father's suffering expanded through the shame his sons brought to his family's standing in the community. And yet...
His kindness let his son go.
His kindness didn't try to stop him.
The father's kindness refused to punish, or even kill, either son for bringing humiliation to the family. The father's kindness shouldered the shame that wasn't his, but was poured on him from his sons.
THAT is our Father's love. If you have a prodigal son or daughter, God has invited you into this sacred space. Before that baby was ever rocked in your arms, God knew he (or she) was going to rock your world, and yet God chose you to be his/her parent.
Now, God is inviting you to be a conduit for His kindness to flow through you to your son or daughter. Look at how Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of the 19th century, described the suffering of God that expresses itself in kindness that leads to repentance,
"The goodness of God to a man of evil life is not intended to encourage him to continue in his sin, but it is meant to woo and win him away from it. God manifests his infinite gentleness and love that he may thereby kill man’s sin; and that, by his tender mercy, he may win man’s hard heart unto himself; and that, by his abundant lovingkindness, he may awaken man’s conscience to a sense of his true position in his Maker’s sight, that he may turn away from the sin which he now loves, and may seek his God, whom he has despised and neglected."
The father in Jesus' story expressed his love to his son, by breaking cultural rules, refusing his right to deny his son's detestable request, and punish him soundly, and doing nothing to deter him from the path he was determined to take.
This landed the father in what might be the worst kind of suffering--silent suffering.
There's nothing harder, as a parent, than to realize you are out of control. Part of the reason we "shoulda, woulda, coulda" ourselves to death, is that we are grasping at remnants of some kind of control. When our children decide to leave us, the wisest thing we can do, is watch them go.
At this point in the story, the father's kindness expresses itself by letting his son go. He suffers silently.
That's a hard suffering.
The silent kind.
The kind that isn't making the headlines.
The kind that doesn't know what's going on wherever your son or daughter might be.
But the kind that chooses to hold on to hope even though hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).
Look what I found in another great article online for parents of prodigals,
"The known love of God toward our children, even when they have wandered from the ways of the Lord, is what holds us steady in turbulent times. Our part as parents is to hold fast what we know about the love of God, what we know from scripture as well as our own experiences. It is our part to imitate that love of God toward our children, even when it appears they reject that love. Kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), and we know that God is kind toward all. In the same way, our kindness, as opposed to rejection or anger, may be the thing that draws our children back into relationship with us as well as God." Waiting for the Prodigal to Return by Andrew and Lisa Cooke
Can you imagine how the villagers might have rebuked the father?! His behavior could have unhinged the threads that held their patriarchal order together! Nevertheless, the father bore the grief, the shame and the dishonor.
What would kindness look like in your situation? Perhaps you would turn the other cheek when they lash out in anger. Perhaps you choose not to cut them off by allowing them access to your social media platforms even after they've blocked you from theirs. Perhaps you treat them with warmth and love when they visit and share a meal.
We will never be perfect parents, and even if we were--that doesn't prodigal-proof our children. But we can be wise parents as we press into the Father's love and trust Him with our children. I'll close with this quote from the same article I just quoted above.
"The Father yearns for [your prodigal's] their return on a far greater scale and that love is at work in their lives, drawing them unto Himself. The power of His love for our children works in ways we don’t understand or see. But we can trust in its effectual power at work on their behalf. To trust this love for our children blesses and honors our Father’s heart. This, above all, we must always maintain our faith in the Father’s love." --Waiting for the Prodigal to Return
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