Father’s Day 2021 – The Good Father

June 19, 2021 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known of Jesus’ teaching-stories.

In fact, prodigal son has worked its way into our contemporary cultural lexicon solely because of this story, depicting someone who is ungrateful and unappreciative, together with being immature, wasteful and recklessly extravagant. The term would otherwise be forgotten, belonging to a bygone era.

The story of the father with 2 sons is obviously a picture of our Heavenly Father, as the Lord Jesus has invited His followers to think of His Father.

Author Kenneth Bailey: “Both the Old and New Testament authors and speakers make clear what they mean when they refer to God as Father. As a metaphor for God, the word father is overwhelmingly a symbol for tenderness and compassion.” 1.

For some, our earthly fathers have given us a greater capacity to understand the Fatherhood of God. And for others, their family experience is at odds with the biblical portrayal of God as a loving, protective, generous, promise-keeping Father.

The tale of the prodigal son is the 3rd component of a single parable. Verse 3:Then Jesus told them this parable, using the singular (in English and in Greek) for the combined stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

Three stories, driving home similar themes, constituting one parable.

But the story of the prodigal son needs to be understood within its biblical and cultural context. The occasion was established in verses 1 & 2: Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”

And as He often does, Jesus demonstrates the hypocritical thinking of His religious opponents by relating a parable that graphically demonstrates the vivid contrast between their mindset and that of God.

However, here’s where we often make an interpretive blunder:

– the shepherd leaves the flock of 99 to find the lost sheep;

– the woman expends effort – not on the 9 silver coins – but to seek and find the single coin she’d lost;

– but the prodigal son learns a hard lesson on his own in a faraway place, and the father as a passive player merely receives the penitent boy back??

Or, should we rather understand that the son’s sense of entitlement – although humbled – remains intact. He is assuming he will receive a paying job on the family farm, learn a skill, and maybe even over time earn enough money to regain the social capital of respectability among family and the community that he has arrogantly and irresponsibly frittered away.

But before he can articulate his well-rehearsed speech, the father, ever watching and waiting, ignores all cultural norms by running to the son, showering him with physical affection, forgiving all and welcoming him to a hastily-arranged reconciliation party.

Here’s the unparalleled genius of the Lord Jesus in constructing this story: His skillful use of the context and parable “embodies a one-to-one relationship between the actions of Jesus and the action of the father in that each welcomes sinners into table fellowship. This unity of action clearly implies a unity of person.” 2.

Jesus is the father.

And His liberal, extravagant forgiveness is also on display in his exchange with the older son who greatly shames his father by refusing to enter the party. His absence speaks volumes to the household and community.

Have you noticed that – poignantly – the parable is a story without an end? Will the elder brother respond? or maintain his angry, sullen, legalistic aloofness?

We are left to wonder.

The single parable of the good shepherd, good woman, and good father shows us that our God takes initiative in resolving the issue that cannot be resolved in any other way.

The lost sheep – incapable of escaping for home or even of defending itself – is totally reliant on the Shepherd’s care and effort to find and return it to the safety of the flock.

The lost coin will remain misplaced in the dark house until discovered through the determined search of the woman.

And the lost son – or 2 lost sons – will remain so unless the father takes initiative, demonstrating unexpected humility, love, and compassion. They are then each left to respond to his grace and unconditional love.

Takeaway: So what does that say to those of us as fathers 20 centuries later?

As those who have been prodigal children – once arrogantly rejecting God’s rightful claim as Master of our lives – we of all people should strive to demonstrate the positive parenting characteristics of Christ.

In the Latin tradition, for centuries this 3-piece parable has been called Evangelium in Evangelio – the Gospel within the Gospel; God initiating His reach to prodigals and the self-righteous.

Bailey concludes, that in the story of the Prodigal, “The image of God as a compassionate father is given its finest definition in all of Scripture. That definition includes the offer of costly love to law-breakers and to law-keepers.” 3.

  1. Kenneth Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.,2003 (p.139)
  2. ibid (p.116)
  3. ibid (p.116)

– graphic by Jason Nelson, freeimages.com