When I was reading the parable of the prodigal son, something struck me. Usually, all the emphasis is on the younger son who basically took his inheritance and ran away from home. But not much gets said about the long-suffering father who waits and watches down the road in hopes for the return of his son.
One aspect of the story really hit home. It’s the part where after the father sees his son coming down the road, he is overwhelmed with compassion and runs to meet his son. I think that part of the parable often gets lost in translation because these days, running is no big deal.
But back in the first century Middle East, running was considered undignified. I ran across a quote from Aristotle that said, “Great men never run in public.”
Get that? An older, well-to-do man would never ever dream of running to meet anyone. But this father chose to become undignified in his expression of his love for his wayward son who had just squandered a third of the family estate and shamed the family. By all accounts, this father should have held a funeral for the boy to show that he was no longer a son or an heir. But he ran to meet him.
This parable shows that God’s grace is scandalous. In order to win back his prodigal sons and daughters, God did something much more undignified than running. He took on the form of a servant in Jesus and endured the public spectacle of a humiliating death on a cross to pay for the sins of His children who had openly rebelled against Him.
Recently, I learned about a Hebrew word, hesed. It is just about untranslatable into English, but the King James Bible translators coined a new word to describe it — lovingkindness. Perhaps the best definition I’ve ever heard of what hesed means is when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.
That’s what God did. I had no right to expect anything from God, but through His undignified death, He gave me everything. He gave me a clean slate from my sins, a right standing with God, and an eternal and abundant life. He made me a son and and heir to all that belongs to Him.
I’m forever thankful for that scandalous grace.