A rather radical interpretation of the story of The Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus, is that separation from God can in fact be a necessary means by wish to know his boundless grace and love. I say this from personal experience – my faith had become stale.
I just love how the son is surprised at his reception following his return. All the while he was away, he knew that he was in a state of rebellion against his father. He would have considered how his unrighteous behaviour would look dreadfully shameful to his righteous father. Just the decision to return would have been one fraught with angst and shame. How could a good father receive such a wicked son? Being reduced to a pitiful existence, he knew that he must return, but hung his head in self-disgust, expecting that his father’s wrath would bear upon him in discipline and disgrace.
Yet as we know, quite the opposite occurred. Upon witnessing his lost son, the father quickly called upon his family and servants to prepare a feast . Coming towards his father, the son slowly raises his sullen head in shame. Rather than rage with fury, the father’s eyes glisten with tears as he runs toward his son and embraces him with warmth and compassion. The son attempts to bring his contrition and confession to the father, and in humility submit himself as a lowly servant unworthy of the father’s love. The father would have nothing of it, but rather beckons his son back home to join in the celebration of his return.
The son would never have known the full extent of his father’s love had he not walked away in rebellion. In the same way, God’s love shines forth ever more brightly in the face of my rebellion, even in the face of my denial. Peter denied the Lord three times; surely his own faith in the love of God was exponentially strengthened as a result of the grace demonstrated in Christ’s forgiveness! Time and time again we resist God, we rebel against God, we walk away from God, we deny God. And yet his grace and love remain the same – he is the father who welcomes us back with open arms whenever we stray. We literally are lambs in the care of the Good Shepherd.
Another extraordinary fact of the story is in the other son, who despises his father’s grace and generosity towards the wayward son. “Why could you not show me such hospitality considering I’ve always been faithful to you?”, he cried. Now Jesus was speaking directly of the Pharisees here, moaning of his grace towards the ‘sinners’. We tend to have such a low view of this group, considering them amongst the most wicked in the gospels. Yet in this story, even the Pharisees are included in God’s love! The father does not reject his jealous son, but rather reminds him that his grace and goodness have been always at home, always close by.
What a story of inclusion! The picture could not have been clearer, of a father with infinitely large arms, ready to embrace all – the wayward and the stubborn – into bountiful grace and love.