Luke 15:11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
Luke 15:14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’
20 So he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.
21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27 The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
I have been staring out the window a great deal these last few days. And because of that I have been thinking about windows and the views they offer. I have a glass door to my right and out it I see my hoop garden, orchard, and the Jemez Mountains.
I am not sure why but as I looked off into the distance I thought about windows and all the stories they present. I love a good story and this parable is as good as they get. With a simple 476 words it has a lot of tales to tell. By “tales” I don’t mean fanciful. I mean it has layers of truth waiting to be discovered. Like a many windowed house, this parable invites us to look and see. Some stories, some windows invite us to look out at horizons and possibilities. Others invite us to look in.
This story invited me to look in, and once I accepted that invitation it is no longer a tale at all, but a personal story, a home in which you and I can discover deeper truths about ourselves. Our tendency, however, is to look out. We say, “I know this story, I know what it means, I know what it has to say.” But when we can turn and look back I with eyes wide open we make ourselves vulnerable to God’s living Word offered for us.
For many years I peered out at this story, seeing different threads that are woven through it. Perhaps the first of these threads was the one about the rotten kid, the son who is so self absorbed that he turns his back on everything but himself. Maybe that was the first thread I noticed because it was the most familiar. Selfishness, self-absorption – looking in I know I have been there before, perhaps we all have.
There is a lot of detail between the lines in this tale. The father obviously is wanting for nothing. He has land and servants. He has a home and family. He also is wise enough to know you can’t force somebody else to do what you want, even if you really do know what is best for them. And so when his son comes and tells him he wants his inheritance, he swallows all that we might want to say. He even ignores the twisting blade his son has thrust into his heart. You see, to ask for your inheritance before its time is really just another way of saying, “I don’t care what happens to you. For that matter you are already out of my life. You are dead to me.”
That is an inward thread in this tale – the selfish child who separates himself from his father. That is the classic definition of sin, by the way, separation from God. So we all know this storyline and understand all that follows for the son. Do whatever you wish, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. Roll the dice, grab what you can. All that matters is me, me, me, until you hit the bottom.
That is another thread we see as we look out, and one some of us has seen looking in – being down in the dirt, so far down we think the pigs have it good. So far down we are no longer dazzled by the bright lights and in their absence see all too clearly the reality of things.
If you have ever found this part of the story to be your own, you know it isn’t a part you chose to be in. Chances are you also know the cold truth of what gets you there. I can remember learning that lesson once or twice, no one to blame but myself.
Like I said, there is a lot in this little tale Jesus tells, lots this window offers.
I find it revealing that for years this parable has been referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I wonder if that is due to our need to judge the son or because we see ourselves in him? To a degree this is a fitting title, for as we recognize, there are many threads of that here. But it seems to me it is only one window into this story and it does not show us all the truth. That is not to say it is not valid, or unimportant. It simply means it is not the whole story.
So, what else can we see here? Perhaps we should look through the father’s window, because it has something else to show us. What do we see? Well, there is a father who has his sons. He also has land, but that does not seem important to him for he freely gives it away. He has servants, but all we know there is they do what he asks and they are cared for. We know this father is either too easily manipulated or wise enough to not force his will on his children. He lets his son go and I don’t think we should assume he does so without knowing what is ahead for that child. I also think his heart is broken and in my mind’s eye I see him living with an eye on the horizon, always looking for his child’s return. I see him getting gray as the days past, gray with worry and concern. But I also believe he lives with hope and not judgment, because he is looking for the day of his son’s return.
To look into the father’s window is to see a picture of grace. Ken Bailey, a former professor at the America’s School in Beirut, Lebanon told me of the father this way. He said, “In the middle east men wear long robes and because of these robes they walk about in a very controlled manner. They stroll, they walk slowly. Actually, they have to, because you can’t run in those robes unless you gather it way up. And no man would do that, to do so would be unthinkable. It would be an embarrassment. But that is precisely what this father does. He sees his son coming down the road and so he hikes up his robes and races out to meet him. Who cares what the neighbors might think?! Nothing will stand in the way of the father’s desire to welcome his child home.”
And do you know what happens next? The Father embraces his child. Before word one of explanation, excuse or apology is offered, there is welcome, there is love, there is forgiveness. And when you put what we saw through the first window, the window of the son, together with this window on the father, we will find that we are now standing in the middle of the house. We have been drawn into this story.
You see, in too many ways, we are that child, and by God’s grace we prodigals find ourselves embraced none-the-less. How else can we explain our being held in God’s love in this trying time? You see, don’t you? This isn’t simply the story seen through the window of the son, where we see sin, and brokenness. Nor is it simply seen through the window of the Father, no matter how much we need that. The whole story is found when we step inside and discover who we are and whose we are and know we are home. That is why we have taken to calling this the Parable of the Forgiving Father.
I want you to ponder what you find inside the house of this story. Poke around and see what wonders await your discovery. But before I end this I want to point out our call as Christians is given it in this tale. I will keep it simple: We are to keep the doors to God’s love as open as we possibly can, so any prodigal will be able to find their way in.