A Fresh Perspective on the Prodigal
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Scripture is filled with great teaching stories. Both the Old and New Testaments contain golden nuggets of wisdom, often hidden in the form of parables and dramatic tales of one kind or another. The problem is we often gloss over these stories because we have read or heard them many times. This sense of familiarity is unfortunate and leads us to either ignore or entirely miss vital truths which, if applied to our daily living, could make us much better people.
Consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son as told by Christ in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. We are so familiar with this tale of a wasted life saved through love and redemption than we often loose the impact that it should have on our lives. Especially if we are wastrels and rogues like the wandering Prodigal. I had the good fortune to have this timeless story brought to new life for me when I was serving as an English teacher in China.
I often taught English writing classes to university students, mostly students majoring in English Language. I sometimes began the semester by handing out a paraphrase of the Prodigal's story because it was easy to read and contained three central characters. The students were asked to write several paragraphs expressing their thoughts on the younger son, the elder brother, and the father. The results were often startling. Sometimes students criticized the younger son for his irresponsibility and lack of filial piety, certainly a strong value in a culture so influenced by Confucianism. Others admired him and extolled his adventurous spirit and independence. These were usually students who were strongly impacted by the New China and its market economy and increasing focus on material acquisition. Opinions also varied on the elder son, ranging from a "loyal and faithful son" to a "stick in the mud traditionalist". But it was the father who tended to mystify them most. How could a father be so tolerant? So forgiving? So loving and compassionate?
At times students were able to ascertain that this was a story about something other than a human father, although I never discussed this in class in a formal way. To do so would be in violation of my contract and Chinese laws regarding foreigners and religious activities. But the student responses helped me as a Christian. They helped me view this story with "fresh eyes" or as Chinese Christians would say, " Xin qi de mu guang". The student writings pushed me to see things from different perspectives, different angles. They helped me to see more clearly.
What I saw more clearly was the outstanding, awesome, and all-encompassing love of the Christian God. Of course I had often heard this concept expressed in numerous sermons and read of it in countless books. But while in China, where I was more dependent upon the Spirit for my spiritual food, this reality of God's loving grace bored into my heart more and more deeply. I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ's true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.
Remarkable isnít it - God accepts our response to his offer in spite of our conflicted hearts and spirits. In fact, if one is to believe what Christ teaches in the parable of the Prodigal, then he in accepts our desperation just as much as he accepts our repentance. Again, this points to the awesome nature of God's love.
The following passage is a directly quoted from one my student's compositions, in this case from a young woman of twenty-one who had remarkable insight into the character of the prodigal son's father:
"What impressed me most was the father in the story. I was most amazed at his love for his two sons, especially the younger one. You see, when the boy asked for his share of the family fortune, the father gave it to him willingly. But it was not just money that he gave him. If you think about it, the father gave the wayward son a part of himself. The money was just the outer trappings. The father had worked hard for many years and put himself into earning this money. So when he gave the money to the young boy, he gave him his life as well. But the young man was foolish and immature. He wasted his father's money and became bankrupt. But even more, he wasted his father's most precious gift, that gift of himself. No wonder he ended up starving and despondent. If I were in that situation I, too, would have a deep longing to return home to the embrace of my loving father. And what is most wonderful in this story is that the father accepted him and loved him, no questions asked. I would give the world to know a father like that."
Many people would like to believe, truly believe, in the overwhelming love offered by God in the Christian gospel. Yet many refuse to accept God's gracious offer because they feel they are too unworthy, too blemished, too tarnished, and too tainted. Many feel they are not good enough to share in this amazing grace that the Bible talks so openly about. Well, the fact is these people are right. They are unworthy, blemished, tarnished, and tainted. All of us are. That's the whole point of the gospel in a nutshell. We cannot go to God because of who we are. But God can come to us. And he did. Christ came into the world for the sick, the fractured, the less than whole. Our unworthiness is our greatest claim to the good news of the gospel.
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And how I would love to see this more and more in sundry arenas of the life of the believer. How much more I would love to see this message in form and fashion here at FW. Now, normally, I will skip over an article that is "run together" like this one, but, having been Prodigal (who hasn't?), I was drawn in and then taken along by the story itself. I was reticent to investigate initially, because the title is so lamentably cliche, in my opinion. But, after reading the article, the title, obtuse as it is, just "fit." I had to be told myself to put more spaces between paragraphs and how that has attracted more "reads" is immeasurable. Sad to say, but we, your readers, are quite the lazy lot and prefer to not have to "work at reading."
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