“So he got up and went to his father. 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. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24).
What a beautiful portrait of grace, masterfully communicated by Jesus in the context of a three-fold parable that He offered as a defense and rationale for His willingness to welcome and break bread with tax collectors and sinners. Having already described the earnest efforts of a shepherd to find a wayward sheep and the similar desire of a homemaker to locate a misplaced coin of great value, Jesus crowns the parable with a figure even more relevant and dear to human hearts, the story of a son who had wandered far from home.
There is no question that the son’s reception represents totally unmerited favor, graciously bestowed by a loving father. The son had done absolutely nothing to earn or deserve such a welcome. Quite the contrary. He had selfishly and disrespectfully demanded his share of his father’s estate, traveled to a distant land (Gentile country), and squandered his wealth with loose living. He spent it prodigally (with reckless extravagance and foolish waste), wantonly paying for the services of prostitutes, at least according to the accusation of his hard-hearted older brother. Penniless and friendless in a famine-stricken land, he sought subsistence through feeding swine as a hired hand. This wasn’t just a dirty and lowly task; for a Jew, this was a nightmare episode of The World’s Most Ceremonially Unclean Jobs, working for a Gentile and handling pigs.
But, none of that mattered to the father who joyfully welcomed home a son who had come to his senses and humbled his heart. He once was lost, but now was found. Celebration!
When I was in the seventh grade, my sister came home from school with a couple of cigarettes that a friend had given her. (Sorry to “out” you on this one, Karen, but I think the statute of limitations has expired on the offense by now). Being a good sister, she shared with her brother; one for her and one for me. Mom was out of town and Dad was still at the office, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to try this smoking thing. Being much brighter than I, Karen smoked her cigarette on the patio. I, on the other hand, believed that the exhaust fan in the bathroom was more than sufficient to remove any hint of the smell of burnt tobacco, especially since I would stand in a chair and blow the smoke directly into the fan. How cool I must have looked! Detecting a “slight” odor afterward, I emptied a can of Lysol throughout the house just to be on the safe side. What could go wrong?
Dad arrived home a little earlier than expected and asked, “What’s that smell?” “What smell?,” I responded. Questioned further, I offered that the smell was Lysol, which I had generously sprayed because, in my opinion, the house stunk. He left it at that for the moment, then went to Karen’s room and promptly got a full confession, including the fact that I was the brilliant one who had smoked in the house. His voice called from kitchen for me to leave my Gilligan’s Island rerun and join him at the table. I knew it was over at this point. Dad didn’t raise his voice at all. He didn’t look angry, and he spoke in a very calm voice. He said, “Tim, I’m very disappointed in you; not just for what you did, but for lying to me about it. I’m not going to tell your mother about this, because I don’t want her to be as disappointed in you as I am right now.” A beating wouldn’t have hurt me as much as those words did. Through tears, I told him repeatedly how sorry I was, and that I would gladly take whatever punishment was coming. Dad said, “Dry your tears, go wash your face, get your sister, and we’ll go to McDonald’s for supper!”
I was stunned! We didn’t eat out much in those days, and going to McDonald’s was special; it was extremely special.
Grace! Forgiveness! Unmerited favor! Undeserved blessings! I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that, though disappointed, my father loved me. A Big Mac was my fattened calf!
Thanks, Dad, for helping me understand the Father’s love, mercy, and grace!