There is no image more enduring in all of Jesus’ parables than that of the father in Luke 15 running down the road to embrace his prodigal son. And as memorable as that part of the story is for us, it must have been doubly striking to Jesus’ audience of Pharisees and teachers of the Law. God’s Law states clearly in Deuteronomy 21 that a rebellious son who brings disgrace to his home and his village must be taken to the city gates and stoned to death.
Yet this father ran to hug him and kiss him. He draped his arms around his son and they walked together to the father’s house. Shocking!
If anybody had attempted to stone this son, they would have hit the father who was embracing him. What a foreshadowing of what Jesus did for us at the cross! The great shepherd guards his sheep. He protects them. He provides for them. And he sacrifices his own safety and reputation and welfare for them.
Had the boy been dealt with according to the Law, there would have been a funeral, not a feast. Praise God, our Father, for his mercy and love and grace!
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
This is one of my favorite stories and one that hits home every time we teach it with the men in Teen Challenge on Wednesday nights. We often think of the grace and mercy from the father, but what I am always struck by is the true joy and love that we all feel when shown this kind of celebration, especially when we deserve the opposite. What a cool picture and display for us to tangibly understand what love really looks like! Now for the question… what happened a day, a week, ten years later to that relationship? I expect the son can always look back on that moment to remember the love he was shown and could pass it on to others. He probably wasn’t perfect, but he learned (wisdom) what it looks like to live the true message of love.