Prodigal Son

As “the Bloke” points out, Father’s Day sermons are often about the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15. The Bloke’s post raises some interesting points about the parable, particularly an unexpected twist on tough love, and an emphasis on the Father’s efforts to pursue both sons.

Usually folks say that the prodigal son repented before he returned home. I’ve come to suspect that he didn’t really repent until he was in his father’s unexpected embrace. He “came to his senses” to me suggests that he realized what a bad situation he was in, and how much better off he would be if he could get his father to hire him as a servant. His father would make a better master than his current employer. Likewise, his prepared speech about having “sinned against heaven and against you” suggests to me not repentance, but shrewdness — he couches his request in language calculated to appeal to his father’s religious sensibilities.

It is not merely a recognition of sin, or even an acknowledgment of responsibility for sin, that leads to repentance. Those things can lead to more effort — effort to stop sinning, to sin less, to manage sin, to outweigh sin with good works, etc. I suppose technically these things are a form of repentance, because the word literally means turning away from. But until one experiences the love and mercy and grace of the Father, there’s nothing to turn TO except one’s own efforts.

The father had every right to deny his son, or treat him merely as a servant. But instead, his love and mercy overwhelmed judgment. I have a hard time understanding how God’s just wrath and his overwhelming love fit together, except that I know it all centers on Christ and the work of the Cross.

That was the focus of our sermon yesterday (“Christ, and him crucified” 1 Cor 2:2), which, by the way, didn’t include any references to the Prodigal Son. Our main text was Romans 8:28 and following, about how overwhelmingly for us God is because of Christ, and how he doesn’t merely remove our current experience of sin or the other effects of the Fall, but overwhelms them with his love and grace, and redeems all things for our ultimate good.

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