This particular Wednesday we were discussing forgiveness which, for some reason, brought out excellent conversation among a normally pretty quiet group. All of it stemming from a well known, if not overused, piece of scripture: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Even non-Christians hear this tale of misfortune, but incase you haven't click here to read Luke 15:11-24. There is another paragraph or so to the story, but we were discussing this portion.
The premise is this: There was a son who asked for all of his inheritance, left home and squandered it. He ended up in a bad way and remembered that even his father's servants had more to eat than he did, so he decided to go back home and ask his father for forgiveness and a job. But before he can even get to the house, his dad sees him and runs to him. The father welcomes him back as his son with love and forgiveness, without mention of the transgressions committed against him.
It's a beautiful story. Simple, but beautiful.
Our group began discussing the son's motives for going home. With the wording and his already tainted character, most of the members came to the conclusion that he was headed back to his father for selfish reasons. Initially, I was rather upset by this and called it cynicism. They were unable to believe he could change and that his motives in heading home were less about seeking forgiveness and more for his own gain. But continuing to consider this passage and the discussion from Wednesday evening, I have come to a different conclusion.
At even the most basic interpretation of this scripture, the father is God. He is God and we are the prodigal son. And even as we think to come home, He runs to us with open arms. Welcoming us home, ready to celebrate our return, even after we have committed the worst crimes against Him, against others, against His creation.
It doesn't matter what the son's motives were. We single him out as an example of fallenness, but he is us. It is easy to consider his past and consider his words and to separate him as selfishly asking forgiveness without actually being repentant, but the truth is - we don't know. As Christians, we consistently look at others from this perspective. Instead of seeing ourselves as the prodigal son, we see a neighbor, an enemy, a stranger. And it is easy to cast this role onto them. We disbelieve they are being genuine and so it makes their apology to God invalid in our eyes.
This is wrong.
This story should not be called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it should be called the Parable of the Loving Father. It is not important that you understand why the son travelled home, only that he did. It is more important to hear that his Father welcomed him home without a word about his committed sins. Not one word. And if it isn't important to the Father? It shouldn't be important to us. We spend so much time worry about whether others have truly repented, that we lose sight of what they story is about.
There is a wonderful lyric that I came to love during some of my darkest and most troubled days:
"To label me a prodigal would be only scratching on the surface of who I've been known to be."
I am not just the prodigal son, I am so much worse than that. My right is not to judge the prodigal son's reasoning for returning home, but to understand that he returned home. The rest is the right of God and God alone. If Christianity is to continue growing and moving forward, we must remember that we are all prodigal children, none worse than the other, and as long as we take that step towards home? It doesn't matter what our motives are or were, it matters that we took that step.
It's funny how this girl, just barely beginning the tumultuous journey that would be her life, could turn into this one.
Or is it beautiful?