The “Parable of the Prodigal Son” has, as long as I can remember, been just about my favorite passage of Scripture in all of the Scriptures. The story captivates me from beginning to end. From the younger son’s request for inheritance, essentially saying to his father, “Dad, I know you’re not dead yet, but can we pretend that you are…” to the recklessly extravagant (“prodigal” as it were) living of the son–“dissolute living” it says in the New Revised Standard Version. It moves to the son’s famine and feeding the pigs…to the measured approach of this young man as he decides to head on back to his father, acknowledging that he is not “worthy” to be called a son anymore but merely asks to be treated as a slave so he can survive. It is humiliating and humbling. Then we see the father, perhaps constantly waiting at the window for his son to return, hiking up his robe and running down the road to greet his son. And, of course, we see the elder son who, like so many of us, lives in the good graces of the father but fails understand that those graces haven’t been earned by us either.
I love the notion that this is really “The Parable of the Prodigal Father” who is recklessly extravagant in his love. He gives his love to those who don’t “deserve” it. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen claims that we are all to become the father. We are all to become the one who welcomes the least, the last, and the lost as did the father in this story…as does our God.
At the end of the story, this isn’t about fathers or sons but about a God who loves us and offers grace to us.