Read His Words Before Ours!
The father in the Prodigal Story was wealthy beyond the local’s comprehension.
Think Bill Gates kind of wealthy.
He could have thrown a party worthy of royalty at any point in time, on any given day of the week. He was well-known, respected, and wanted for nothing.
The only thing he had to risk was his reputation. In his small community, where everyone knew everyone else (and their business), there were social lines he couldn’t cross if he wanted to maintain his influential standing.
To help us understand his culture, step with me behind the scenes and dig your toes into the farming community surrounding this tale. Stand shoulder to shoulder in the crowd of faithful, Torah following Jews, and be drawn in to Jesus’ story.
All those laws we read about in Leviticus? They were designed for honor. Honor for family and community. For a son, who was not a first-born, to request his inheritance while his father was alive, was unforgivable. The arrogant one would be brought before his community where the father would literally slap his son across the face, publicly disowning him. It was the absolute lowest a son could go. Furthermore, if the father acquiesced to his son’s arrogance, the father was seen as weak.
The Prodigal ran away to “a distant land” in our story. Which, to the Jews of that day, always meant a Gentile land. At this point in the story, the Jews are already shaking their heads and muttering their disgust, pulling at their beards in shock at the son’s lengths to disgrace his father. Running away to the Gentiles, on top of ignoring the 5th commandment to honor your father and mother? Horrifying. This boy had a villainous heart, prostituting himself to foreign ways and women along with disowning his family and his faith. Irredeemable!
Then, when the audience didn’t think it could get worse, Jesus pushes the envelope even father. The boy, so desperate for food, sinks even lower by working for a Gentile Pig Farmer. Pork was absolutely off-limits. Jews didn’t cook it, eat it, touch it, raise it, smell it. But this boy. He hired himself out to take care of pigs! Worse, because he was literally starving to death, he shared food with the pigs.
To the audience, the boy now became a pig himself. He embodied sin.
Jesus falls silent, allowing the scene He’d just described to take up space in their hearts.
The audience squirms in discomfort.
They are disgusted with the drama being portrayed by Jesus’ lips.
It’s like staring in the eyes of the murderer, the adulteress, the girl who had an abortion, the man trapped in homosexuality, the drunk on the street corner, the spouse caught up in pornography and seeing yourself.
They avert their eyes.
They know that in their hearts, they’ve become the sin-wrecked villain as well.
They know they haven’t kept the whole law.
They know they are greedy.
They know they’ve lusted.
They know they’ve lied.
They know they’ve dishonored the holy God.
The picture Jesus painted was meant to make his audience terribly uncomfortable.
He meant to make us uncomfortable too.
The prodigal’s sin.
It’s the same.
We have each turned away from holy.
Each shunned our Father God.
Each fallen short of God’s perfect standard.
Just as the silence became unbearable, Jesus does the unthinkable,
He describes a willingly disgraceful Father.
You can hear His voice, can’t you? Quivering with emotion, eyes moist at the thought of exactly WHO He was describing here, the heavy knowledge of His own looming sacrifice of love filling up his good Father’s heart.
Jesus deliberates over the details of His Father.
Culturally, a disgraced father would never meet his estranged son face-to-face.
The shame was too significant.
As is our sin in light of His righteousness. Unbearable.
The cultural consequence to disgracing a parent was death by stoning.
And so with us.
The wages of sin is death……
Are you there? Standing in his shoes? Those of the son? Those of the Father? Feeling the weight of sin? The weight of shame?
The story says the Father saw his son “a long ways off”, which, in a world without streetlights, meant broad daylight. The son came home, wrecked by shame, staggering in front of the community and the man he had so thoroughly disgraced. The village was bustling with buyers, sellers, bargaining, and suddenly the filthy son became center stage only to be overshadowed
by a father who ran, publicly, to welcome him with open arms.
Again, culturally speaking, a wealthy man of influence would never be seen running anywhere for he would have servants do his bidding.
But God didn’t send a servant to sacrifice for Him, did He? He came HIMSELF.
On top if it, the same opulent dignity would keep the man from raising his robes to reveal bare legs.
But Jesus came, baring all, didn’t He?
Emptying Himself of His rights as God, born naked in a cave, dying naked on a tree of complete shame.
Tears must have streamed down Christ’s face and His heart must have pounded with emotion as He finished up His story. He saw in His mind’s eye the richest gifts to be given freely to those who would call Him Savior, while putting into words the gifts given to the Prodigal.
Sandals, symbolizing full acceptance as a son because slaves went barefoot; only sons and masters had footwear.
God sent His Son….that we might receive adoption as sons.
A robe, meaning “first-ranking garment”.
The son was clothed in fine linen, which gave him honor while completely covering the filth of his life as a pig-herder.
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.
The ring of authority was as an official re-instatement into the family.
No one could argue with the authenticity of sonship, it was an official, irrevocable seal.
It is God….who has put His seal on us.
The gifts were luxurious.
The reinstatement complete.
The cost was the Father’s reputation….and he gladly paid full price.
To many, yes.
The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
For the son who was once lost, once dead, has returned and is alive!
See the Father’s disgrace and know how great a price He paid for you.
Will you allow him to lavish you with His richest gifts?
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!