Tonight, Cameron Russell spoke from Luke 15 about the parable of the Prodigal son. I think if you polled any group of believers, that parable would almost inevitably rank as one of their top three favorite Bible stories. And with good reason, since it is one of the best examples of the limitless nature of God’s love.
Traditionally, the story is about the bad son who went away and the good son who stayed, but if you pay attention to the story, both sons were prodigal in different ways. The younger one basically told his father to drop dead, asked for his share of the inheritance, and took off to a distant country for some wild living. The older one stayed but viewed his worth in his work rather than in his sonship. Both missed the mark.
But the prodigal love of the Father was big enough for both sons. It was the love that caused the Father to run in an undignified manner toward the very son who betrayed and left him. It was also the love that pleaded with the older son to come to the family party and celebrate like a son rather than to sulk outside like a servant.
I think that in the context of Luke 15, the younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus dined with and whom the Pharisees looked down upon and scorned, while the older brother represented the Pharisees themselves who viewed God’s favor as very much earned and not to be given away freely.
But the real prodigal in the story is the Father. To be prodigal is to be lavish and wasteful, and that’s what the Father did. He prodigaled his love on the son by giving him his inheritance early and by receiving him back as a son before the son had shown true repentance and change. As I mentioned before, he didn’t wait for the son to come to him but did something that no respectable older man in those times would have ever done — he ran to meet his son. And he was patient and loving toward the older son even after the son insulted him and cheapened his love.
That’s the kind of love that God shows both to the ones of us who ran away to a far country and the ones who stayed with hardened hearts. When we scorn the fact that God loves those sinners we look down upon, we show that we too are just as in need of that love as they are. The Father God’s love is for all of us, and all of us need it.