Recorded in the Gospel of Luke is the parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable has often been called a “gospel within the Gospel.” Jesus often spoke in parabolic forms to reveal the Kingdom of God. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” This parable puts on display the administration of the Kingdom. It certainly reveals the hearts and actions of the sons, but more importantly it reveals the heart and actions of the Father.
“I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:19-20)
The younger son had taken his Father’s inheritance and left his Father and brother behind. He recklessly spent and destroyed what was given to him by his Father. He did not stop until he found himself at rock bottom trying to survive.
I wonder if, while he was feeding the pigs, he had concluded that his Father’s love had faded with every decision he had made and was making. I wonder if he assumed that with every mile he had traveled away from his Father, his Father’s love traveled away from him also. As he rehearsed his confession and his proposition to his Father, one thing appeared clear to him; he would beg for one more shot, one more chance to earn at least a drop of forgiveness. He would work as a servant to redeem Himself. He just needed a shot at forgiveness.
What he asked for, he would never receive. His Father ran to him and embraced him as his beloved son. His Father refused to treat him as a hired servant, He refused to have His son earn His love and a place in the family. The Father will not have either of His sons believe that they have labored to obtain His love for one second. The Father loves because it’s who He is, He is love.
The Old Adam wants one more shot at forgiveness, just one more chance to earn. The Old Adam strives to redeem himself. Regardless of how far we fall short from God’s Law, we believe that with enough effort we can dig ourselves out of this mess. Like the prodigal, we do not understand ourselves or our Father.
The Kingdom operates based not on our love, our merit, or our worthiness. The Kingdom is fueled solely on the Father’s love in Christ, His forgiveness, mercy and compassion. Everything is given, as Martin Luther states, “purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” The Gospel is not that we are given a second chance and taken back as servants. The Gospel is that Christ becomes a servant, and as the Divine Servant, He redeems us to be adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. Our place in God’s family, our redemption, forgiveness, everything is a gift.
“God is a giver. With a giver you can receive or reject, but you can’t make a deal. And a deal is what we are always wanting to do, for when we are doing a deal, we can negotiate terms, calculate what we put into it and what we get out of it…God simply loves to give, and we can never change Him into a trader no matter how hard we may try.” —Norman Nagel
This parable is all about the Father—it’s all about God’s love for us. It’s the Father who rejoices, runs after, and loves His lost and dead child back to life. It’s the Father who leaves the party to go after His lost child in the fields. It’s through Christ that God runs after us and makes us His children. It’s through Christ that He runs after us who are dead in our sins and embraces us through His life and death. We fall into the loving arms of a Father who runs to us, who seeks us when we did not seek Him, who loved us first and embraces us despite our immense unworthiness. We live in the Father’s love that was given and promised to us. We belong to the Father who operates not on deals but by gifts. The Father will not give us a shot at forgiveness, He has already freely and abundantly lavished and embraces us with forgiveness and life through His Son.
Kathy graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College with a B.A. in Media Design. She is currently a writing contributor with Christ Hold Fast, Higher Things, and Coffee by Gillespie, as well as a freelance graphic designer. She is the co-author of The Sinner/Saint Lenten Devotional from 1517 Publishing.