My favorite, (and probably Jesus’ most famous parable) is known as the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" (Luke 15). It kicks off with Jesus around at the table having a meal with the tax collectors and sinners. This was a major social no-no. Rabbis were holy men and who they ran with really mattered. Who you shared a meal with was more than just eating. Sharing meals together was a sign of acceptance, welcome, and friendship. The Pharisees (the religious separatists) despised the fact that Jesus was willing to break bread with those who were most certainly unwelcome around the things of God, much less, God himself.
Jesus notes their grumbling and decides to tell the room of stories. You can almost picture Jesus straightening himself up, tapping his wine glass with his fork, (Ding! Ding! Ding!), “Excuse me everyone… Could I trouble you with sharing a couple of stories that I’ve got on my mind?” Everyone chimes in, “Yes! We love your stories!” “Alright”, he answered. "I like to call these ’the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.’"
Now, there’s so very much that can be explored in this earth-shattering chapter of the Bible but here I just one to point out one piece: the saddest part of the runaway son’s story.
The saddest part of the prodigal son episode isn’t when he asks his father for his inheritance before his father passes away.
The saddest part isn’t when he packed his bags and left home.
The saddest part isn’t when he squanders his inheritance in “reckless living” which included wild parties and sexual deviance.
The saddest part isn’t when he wakes up broke and starving in a pig sty.
The saddest part comes when he’s on his way home, putting together his “I’m sorry” speech, saying to himself, “I’m going to ask my Dad for a job.” He thought he’d be a better employee than a son (and maybe he was right). But that’s the thing. He was going to go back and ask his Father for the impossible. Listen to his words. Have you ever said anything like this to God? "I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” Think about that for a second. “Treat me as a hired servant.” That is the saddest part of the story. How he wanted to be treated.
To the son covered in filth and shame it was inconceivable to come back home and pick up where they left off. Who in their right mind would even think of even showing up? That only happens in movies. But that’s not real life. In real life you always reap what you sow. In real life, you go to time out. In real life, karma gets you. In real life, there’s no free lunch. In real life, you pay for your mistakes. That’s real life.
The son must’ve been thinking: “I’ve gone too far. I’ve messed up way too much. I’m just nasty. There’s a pig sty in my heart. There’s filth all over me. I smell like a drunk. There’s lipstick from strangers on my neck. I’m a big pile of mistakes on the inside and outside. What I need is a job. I need to make some resolutions to try harder, do more, and not be such a screw up.” That’s the saddest part. Desiring to be an employee rather than a child. Hoping to come on the work crew as a hired hand rather than come in the house as a cherished child. Settling for a paycheck rather than a father’s embrace.
Ever been there?
Why would Jesus tell this parable? Because it’s our default to come up with schemes and plans that put us near God without the vulnerability required to be embraced by God.
To the son, it just seemed way less scandalous to ask for a job than to be welcomed back into the family. But to the Father, nothing less than complete forgiveness and restoration was acceptable.
When it comes to being scandalous in this story, the Father tips the scales big time! You see, anyone can leave home, get drunk, and messup sexually. That’s hardly a capital “S" scandal. The really Scandalous One in the story is the the One who had a broken heart still runs to his son, kisses him, and throws a huge party for the whole town in his honor because they were back together again! He’s the One that’s out of line, right?
The Father is not about to hire his son! The Father simply could not and would not turn this covenant into a contract! Asking the Father to act as though he didn’t count the boy's ten fingers and toes as a baby. As though the Father didn’t delight in him every day as his son. As though the Father didn't cherish every birthday with all his buddies around.
God is not hiring.
God is adopting.
The Father then throws a huge party. The son must’ve thought, “I can’t believe we’re partying. I thought I’d partied enough.” You see, what we learn here is that God isn’t anti-partying. He simply wants to be the one who furnishes the joy that makes the party an actual party. You see, partying without him is just coping. Partying because of him is abundant life.
Notwithstanding the remainder of the parable addressing the older son - were Jesus writing a movie the narrator would come on at this point and “And they lived happily ever after.”