A Father’s Strange Love
By Youval Yanay
Recently we explored the parable of the “Prodigal Son” together in the discipleship program.
Jesus tells three parables about things that are lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son – prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
In the first parable the lost, hungry sheep is in danger of never being able to return to the flock. In the second parable, the owner of a lost coin searches even in dark places to find it. The common folks hearing these parables, sinners and oppressed, could identify with hunger and darkness. We might find their equivalent today lost in clubs, pubs and parties – searching some romance, some food, or some alcohol to numb the pain.
In our main parable, a father has two sons. The younger one asks for the inheritance even before his father dies. But the father does not rebuke him, even though the request is scandalous. The father allows his son the freedom to choose. Within a few days the son departs, and quickly wastes his whole inheritance on a life of debauchery in a distant land. Then a famine begins.
Desperate to find work, the son tends hogs. For a Jew this is unimaginable. He lives among swine -handling animals the Torah identifies as unclean. Remember, a man who is ritually impure cannot pray in public, nor enter God’s temple.
This impossible situation makes him stop, take stock, and think about the consequences of his actions. An idea comes to him:
“I will go to my father and tell him, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired hands.’ ”
Even during his immoral self-indulgence he suffered, and now he reaches a state of true repentance. He is ready to humiliate himself and become a servant. In the two preceding parables, the sheep and the coin, neither the sheep nor the coin have a free will to choose a different life. They are simply lost!
But here, the son has a conscience and has the ability to decide and choose and his actions.
When the son returns home, the father sees him from afar. What does this say about the father’s heart? He did not lose hope. The father hugs and kisses him, and then the son says – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you and I do not deserve to be called your son.”
He doesn’t say “put me as one of your tenants”. Because suddenly he understands that the father’s love is not a matter of negotiation or payment. All at once, he sees the depth and power of his father’s love. There is no place for punishment here. And so he stops his plan and surrenders to the father’s plan.
The father had not tried to dictate the son’s actions. The son had to experience the consequences of his choices and then the depth of grace, to ultimately understand who he really is and how much the father loves him.
Where are we in the story? Are we ready to receive the Father’s love, or do we still think we can live without him? Have we already realized this, but are still afraid to humble ourselves? Are we ready to receive His love?