Today, I'm going to continue the series I started yesterday on the parable of the prodigal son. Yesterday, I focused on the prodigal himself; today, I will focus on the father, by far the most beautiful character of the story. Although the prodigal is apparently the focus and main character of the story, I think Jesus wanted to make an equal impression with His account of the Father.
The contrast between the son and father couldn't be any more striking. The father's love in contrast to the son's disrespect could not have been missed by his hearers, and I think that's the point of the parable. It's not just to talk about the son's sin, but to talk about the father's love.
God graciously gave the son the opportunity to do what he demands to do. In the son's free will, he leaves the father. But notice that even in his rebellion, he is dependent on the mercy of the father. In order to get to the far country, he had to ask his father for money! In the same way, we, even when we think we are the most independent from God as is possible to be, must still breathe every breath as an undeserved gift from God.
I think the most beautiful part of this entire passage is Lk. 15:20. "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." The idea I see here is that the father was looking up, watching the road his son would be coming back down, and when at last he sees what he was waiting for, he runs to meet his son.
I didn't really understand the significance of this until I read John MacArthur's book on this parable. I'd always just read that the father ran to meet his son as "well, the father got excited and ran to meet his son, so?" In Jewish culture, men did not run unless they were in battle or a messenger for two reasons. One, they were the patriarch. They had their dignity, something hard to maintain while sprinting across a field like kid. Two, these men wore long robes. In order to run, they had to pull up their robes (much like girls do today). Again, it's very hard to maintain dignity while running across a field like a schoolgirl, with your bare legs showing.
Point is, running simply was not done by adult, well-to-do men. Yet we see the father, completely careless of any custom or tradition that stands between him and the sinner, dashing, forgetful of dignity, his own status, or that of the sinner's, to his hug his son. To hug his filthy, rebellious son, fresh out of a pigpen.
Let's just think about that. Can you imagine the scandal of this in the village? The rebellious, law breaking, stinking son returns home, and the wealthy father runs to meet and hug his son. This love is hard to comprehend. I know whenever I come home from a long taekwondo workout and my mom tries to hug me, I always keep her away until after I shower, because I stink! I can't even imagine what this guy must have smelled like.
Not only was it a bad smell, but even the smell was a defiance of the law. The law demanded no contact with pigs, and here was a guy who smelled like one, literally! And in hugging the sinner to himself, the father bears the same stigma, the same reproach of the smell with the son.
Hmmm, have we heard something like that somewhere else in the Scripture? A rebellious sinner, a loving Father, an innocent God bearing the reproach for a sinful man, then adorning the man with His own robe and ring, then showering him with blessings? Sound familiar?
And yet again, we see God's grace. We see a son who in most Jewish families would have been disowned by the father instead greeted and showered with good things from the hand of the Father. A robe, an article of clothing that would have completely covered his nakedness, a ring, showing his son-ship status once again, and sandals, giving protection. A fatted calf, to provide for his need of hunger. We see the Father loving the undeserving son way beyond what we would call fair! This is a feast!
I think this was one of Jesus' points of this parable. Not only was He attempting to show the son's (Israel and all mankind's) rebellion, but He also wanted to show in the same motion the father's (God's) love, despite our rebellion. It's a beautiful picture, if we take the time to read it.