Random Thoughts on Prodigals…

“Why did he let me leave in the first place?”

I wonder if the son who fled—we know him as the Prodigal—ever thought that?

Though I know this story from Luke 15 is (a) a parable, and (b) more about the radical behavior of the Father than it is about the son, nevertheless I found myself thinking about the son this morning.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a good prodigal.

Maybe the best there ever was…

Regardless, two things struck me this morning.

Question #1: Why did the Father let the son leave in the first place? 

Surely He knew better; the Father knew the son’s character better than anyone else. He knew what was going to happen. Do you think the gambling, the women, the lavish spending (probably on the ancient near east’s equivalent of Beats headphones and bad car lease agreements) just happened over night?

The Father knew what was up with His son.

And yet He let him go. Why?

Why not protect everybody from the pain—the hell—that was just around the corner. It would’ve spared so many people so much pain.

I think the Father let him go because He loved him; I think He let him go because He knew that maturity largely comes from making choices and experiencing consequences, as painful as that can be. 

And that, ultimately, only mature, free-choosing people can love. 

Love hurts (yes, Gram/Emmylou/Nazareth/Norah/Keith).

But in order to produce, loving mature human beings, a parent has to risk disobedience. That’s what the Father does, even though it costs everyone something.

But could the son ever learn to love without growth?

Question #2: What About Shame? 

If you remember the story, you know the basics: a son asks his father for his inheritance “early” (“Dad, can you go ahead and die? Yeah that would be great…”), and then takes off spending pretty much everything on those things—the same things that most of us would spend free money on if we were eighteen. He winds up broke, alone, and far away from home, eventually ending up working as a servant, feeding pigs and hungry for their food.

Assume, for just a moment, that in an ancient culture like this one, “honor” and “reputation” are paramount concepts…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this honor and reputation were visibly represented by a family’s father; it’s his job to guard that honor and defend it…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this son has succeeded in bringing down shame and dishonor to his family, in particular his father. 

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that—rather than keeping his father’s name “special” (“holy”, anyone?)—he has actually succeeded in associating that name with the worst of what humanity can offer…

… cheap, humanity destroying sex

… conspicuous and wasteful consumption

… immoral (or worse yet?) amoral living

… narcissism that doesn’t give a crap about anyone

What does the son do when he hasn’t kept his father’s name holy?

What does he do with that shame? 

But there’s something about the father…

I think shame is cyclical: we shame others out of the shame we feel.

We cast guilt onto others because of the hidden guilt we carry around in us.

But what if you feel no shame? 

Or rather, what if you’ve decided to break the cycle of shame inside you forever by experiencing the most shameful thing you can imagine?

How about a public death?

… an execution?

… as an innocent?

… as a terrorist?

When you know the worst of what shame and guilt can do, and you embrace it, it has lost its power. 

And you’ve broken the cycle.

This Father knows suffering; He will know shame; He will know rejection and death…

… and He’s not afraid to embrace it.

Thus, He destroys its power.

It’s no longer part of the equation.

Ultimately, He is not ashamed of the son, because His name cannot be shamed by the son. The son can freely forgive without shame or condemnation because he has broken that perpetual cycle. It’s over, and all that’s left are tears of welcome, hugs, and a big celebration.

That is all…

Well, almost all…

Like it or not, this was the first version that I heard of that song… ah the summer of 76

(p.s. how does that guy sing so high? maybe a combination of the leather pants and facial hair)

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