The story of the prodigal son is one of Jesus’ best known parables, loved though the ages of Church history and commonly referred to as ‘the Gospel within the Gospel. It’s part of Jesus’ response to the accusation: ‘Why does He eat with ‘sinners’?
Jesus responded with three stories - that of a lost sheep which gets found by a good shepherd, that of a lost coin which gets found by a good woman and finally that of a lost son who gets found by a good father.
In the third story the younger son wants to live as if his father were dead. He wants his inheritance NOW without further thought of how this might affect his father. When he eventually loses everything and ends up hungry and desperate, he starts home. He’s conceived a plan!
In His story Jesus interweaves a quote from Pharaoh (Exodus 10:16) “I have sinned against heaven and against you”. After having lost Egypt’s provision Pharaoh speaks these scheming and manipulative words. He sounds very spiritual, because he wants a bad situation to change for his own good. The younger son in Jesus’ story has similar plan. If only he could soften his father with these clever words perhaps he would be able to have food and provision once again - problem solved!
The father’s response in this story defies all expectation. The father does the unthinkable. He runs out to the younger son, showers him with kisses and welcomes him home. He excitedly declares: ‘My son was lost but now is found! He was dead but now is alive again!’ He restores him as a son and invites everyone to come and celebrate with him, because he’s been able to fully restore his son.
The younger son wanted provision. The father wanted nothing less than full relationship, both with the younger son as well as the older. We might be coming to God because we want a problem solved, a healing need met or because we need provision. God runs to us with open arms and says: “I don’t want to give you just these things. I want to have full relationship with you. I want you in my home as my child”! Whether we are like the younger son (rebellious, law-breaking sinners) or whether we are like the older son (self-righteous, ‘law-keeping’ sinners), God wants us home with Him, close to His own heart, living as His precious child.
Why does Jesus eat with ‘sinners’? It’s because God wants to be close to everyone, because He loves everyone, and because He wants deep relationship with everyone. He doesn’t want to settle for just solving our problems or meeting our needs. He certainly doesn’t want to receive us as servants or slaves. He wants us to be in His home, living with Him, enjoying the privilege of being His child.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank You that You love me so much that You want to settle for nothing less than the fullest of relationships with me. I know that many times I’ve come to You because I wanted You to do something for me. Thank You that You want so much more! Help me to also want and pursue that depth of relationship that You long for. In Jesus’ name. AMEN!
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