I few years ago, I read a book by Timothy Keller entitled The Prodigal God. The title might catch you off guard. Perhaps you remember the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. Keller makes the assertion that the story is inappropriately entitled. It is not the story of the son; rather the father is the main character. As we come to Luke 15 this week, I am reminded of this truth.
The story/parable is the third of three parables. The first two are about lost items (a coin and a sheep). The third story describes a son’s rebellion; he insists on an early inheritance and blows it on wild living. When he reaches rock bottom (eating with the pigs), he figures he will return home begging for an inferior position in his father’s house.
We often focus on the excessive, reckless lifestyle of the son. Yet Keller contends that the point of the story is the unrestrained forgiveness of the father. Two words highlight the father’s action in the text.
(Luke 15:20 NIV) “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 first word (translated in the NIV as filled with compassion) is splagchnizomai. This word is used in the NT twelve times. It often describes Jesus’ feeling toward the crowd or the lost. Matthew describes Jesus in his Gospel,
(Matthew 9:36 NIV) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The father could have been angry; he could have resenting the foolish action of his son. Yet he is overwhelmed with compassion. And his concern prompts his response. What happens next is an unusual maneuver for a first century grown man. He runs. The Greek literally reads,
The Father saw and had compassion and ran!
This description may have caused the religious leaders to gasp. A dignified father would stand, looking down his nose as his son approached. A stately gentleman would not have exhibited such behavior. Yet Jesus describes a running father.
As we consider this story on Sunday, we find a robe-tucking, undignified father longing for his son’s return. God’s behavior in this parable (the father is God) is extravagant. Join us on Sunday as we explore this profound picture of God and consider the ramifications for our lives.