By Scott Keith –
It is Father’s Day weekend, and I have been in Cadillac, Michigan at Joel Hess’s church teaching on Being Dad – Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. As I say in the book, the story is the tale of two lost and found sons and the dad that has been in the middle the whole time. This is the tale of the Father who loves us and sent His Son, that through His death and resurrection, we might be like one who “was dead, and is alive” in order that we might be claimed as His own child.
I am struck by the fact that the parable is essentially the story of two sons trying to make a deal with their father by means of righteous proclamation or pathetic confession. I’m struck because this is exactly what we do with our Heavenly Father: try to make deals. But here is the thing: our deals are not wanted––not wanted because the dead cannot make deals, nor can they confess. They only need to be brought back to life. It is as Capon notes: “Confession is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness; it is the last gasp of a corpse that finally can afford to admit it’s dead and accept resurrection.”
I don’t have time in this blog to go through all the details of the parable. But needless to say, in the parable, things didn’t work out for the sons the way any of us expected it to. What does happen to them makes no sense from any perspective. The GOSPEL is kind of like that; it makes no sense––it is a stumbling block! It is probably not possible in any parable or story to completely capture the mystery of what it means to be saved by God in Christ. Yet in this tale, we have some inkling of what it might mean. The father is in the house. It is always safe to come home.
I think the overall theme is that YOU can always come home. Jesus has made you, a dead thing, alive! The calf has been killed, and thus the celebration that is the Father’s house must begin. His Word of forgiveness will always be free to you. We rely on the Father’s strong word of grace, because when He pronounces us righteous on account of Christ, we are made alive. We have nothing else we can rely on except for this. It is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for these brothers and sisters to your left and to your right were dead and are alive; YOU were dead and are alive; you and they were lost and are found! It is fitting to celebrate! The Father’s words to us all are the Word of Life and raise us from that dead state.
I think that God has given us these stories (parables) that we might rely on them and share them, that we might be God’s words of life on the lips of another imparting faith, hope, and life. His Word on our lips kills and makes alive. Again, Capon gives us one more insight into the purpose of these tales when he says that in this tale we see clearly that the last judgment will be the ultimate vindication, “for the simple reason that everybody will have passed the only test that God has, namely that they are all dead and risen in Jesus. Nobody will be kicked out for having a rotten life because nobody there will have any life but the life in Jesus. God will say… ‘You were dead and are alive again; you were lost and are found: put on the funny hat and step inside.’” You can always come home. Put on the funny hat and step into the party. Jesus has made you, a dead thing, alive!
C.S. Lewis says: “The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
The compulsion of the Father is to, at any cost, set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil! And, for the sake of Christ, this is exactly what He does. This is the only hope we have, through the grace of the Father to us prodigals everywhere! You can rely on that.
Now, it is time for you to drop dead. Shut up, forget about your stupid life, go inside, and pour yourself a tall drink. (In my case, a beer.)
Remember: “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
And to that, I think we can all say Amen!