Thursday, January 1, 2015

Will You Call Him "Father?"

My son was barely sixteen when he decided to go it on his own. To find his own place to live -- or not, handle his own education -- or not, make his own money in his own way -- or not. He demanded I cash in his bonds and clear out the savings account I'd been trying to watch over as I'd tried to watch over him. His initial decision was heartbreaking to me; the decisions he continued to make after that were even worse. There wasn't a day that passed I didn't think of him, or pray for him, or wonder if he was safe, or wonder why he chose the things he did. Some days I cried. Some days I thanked God for being a loving and sovereign Father who had His eye on the smallest of sparrows, and His eye on my son. Some days I put up walls, dusted off my hands, and shrugged, "What can I do?" Some days I scanned the crowd at parades and picnics. Some days I forgot -- not that he was my son, or that he was gone, but I forgot to hurt; I forgot to experience loss; I forgot to live without my son, and just lived. I thought they were the best days.

Today my devotions took me to Luke 15:11-42, the Parable of the Running Father. As I was growing up, it was so commonly referenced as The Parable of the Prodigal Son that I thought "prodigal" meant wayward or rebellious; prodigal means "spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant." And he was, but there is so much more to be gleaned from this story when we know Who the Father really is. I believe I've mentioned it before, but I have always felt as though I identified with each of the characters in this story: the reckless and selfish son, the jealous brother, and the heartbroken, loving father. Well, two out of three. Today the Holy Spirit really showed me something about this father I'd never seen before.

It can all be seen in the climactic return of this lost and prodigal son:
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."

"While he was still a long way off." This parable falls right into line with two others found in Luke 15 -- a lost sheep, and a lost coin. In both of those cases the owner searched desperately for that which had been lost. Given the context, it does not appear this father had ever given up the search -- not for a day, not for a moment. Customarily, farmers did not live on their farms, so this does not appear to be a scene with some solitary figure cresting the hill of a sprawling estate, the distinguishable walk he'd had since toddlerhood betraying his identity, the father looking up from his raking, and the two locking eyes. Besides, the young man had demanded his share; this means land would have been sold in order to divide the portions between the man's sons. It is quite possible Jesus' listeners would have instantly deduced the setting to be a community -- residents and animals moving through the streets, neighbors watching, tongues wagging, a father walking streets he'd walked countless times before in search of the very one who'd betrayed and rejected him most vehemently.

And Dad's response? Running toward him! When Steven was gone I'd often imagined what a reunion might be like, but it never included me throwing myself at him, risking more rejection and hurt. This father can't imagine what his son has been through or what ideas have been rolling around in that self-indulgent and belligerent little head of his, yet he runs to meet him. What if the son had remained stiff and unyielding to his father's embrace? Or even hurled vitriol and pushed right past him? And for an elder to run was highly undignified and equally unlikely. To run to a youth was unheard of. To hike up his robe to avoid tripping himself, thereby expose his legs to his servants and neighbors looking on? Scandalous. Shameful. But this true, selfless father abandons any measure of caution or self-preservation to greet this rebel with tears of joy and to shower him with kisses! Kisses! For a filthy boy who had acted so wretchedly. Not to mention the ramifications of a Jewish pig keeper. Jesus makes no mention of this young man even considering his need to clean himself up before appearing to his father. I'm certain he not only stunk to high heaven, but by Jewish law he had no right to get there -- he would have been decidedly unclean, unworthy. But Dad is willing to defile himself, to wear the stench of his beloved child's misdeeds if only to draw him closer.

The Father that Jesus describes never forgets. He never puts up walls to protect Himself from the hurt of losing a child. He never goes on about His life with periods of grief getting farther and farther apart. He is never distracted by thinking, "This one is so far gone right now, I'll deal with her later, when she's a little more broken, a little more tired of screwing things up her way." This Father is relentless in His pursuit. Whether you return His embrace and call Him "Abba," or whether you demand what is "yours" and reject His authority, He is your Father and His pursuit is you.

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