In the fantastic story that Jesus told (Luke 15), there is insight into The Father based on how Jesus portrayed that dad. I know it’s familiar to most readers, but our Father is teaching me something right now and I’m just using this venue to process it.
‘Story’ is a key word here. This is not a lectern-presented, manuscript mounted, fill-in-the-blanks focused, PowerPoint-driven lecture on “Characteristics of God” by a professional theologian in a seminary setting – it’s a story told by someone Who was there – someone Who knows the Father personally – Who was trying to help those who studied Him to know Him more intimately themselves.
When I sit down, a couple thousand years later, to hear the same story, I have to admit what it’s not (lecture) if I’m going to embrace the richness of what it is (story).
Growing up, this story was told to me as though it was all about that prodigal son. That’s even the sub-title a lot of my Bible’s gave to these paragraphs.
Funny thing is, in my past, most of the attention was placed on just the first part of that story… on his rebellion, recklessness, wastefulness,… his uncontrolled spirit… not on his redemption – that was sort of an epilogue.
This first-half person was hung out to dry by my Sunday School teachers and parents as a forever warning – a symbol of what would happen to me if I didn’t go to Church each week, obey my folks, eat my vegetables and stop looking at the pretty girls on Hee Haw (we had rural roots so my folks didn’t know I looked at the pretty girls on Laugh-In too).
The older I’ve gotten, however, the more I find myself drawn to the story of the loving father, with the sons as more character-actors in the narrative – absolutely necessary for the plot, but not really the stars-of-the-show.
It was sort of the height of Jesus’ popularity among the population and a time of deepening disdain from the in-crowd. Reading from Luke 14 on I see a series of cheers from the regular joe’s and a complementary set of jeers from the higher-ups!
All this cheering from those on the outside translated to “great crowds” following Jesus, but He saw it as more band-wagon than family, so He laid out the cost of discipleship… oh my.
The folks far from God (and knew it) were willing to pay any price to become part of the Kingdom so those “tax collectors and notorious sinners” (Luke 15:1f) stuck around, which aggravated the religious aristocracy even more.
Jesus tried to help them get Him by telling 3 short stories – stories about finding.
In the final story He pictured God as Dad – an image completely comfortable for Jesus, but not-so-much for religious people. [BTW, He was already teaching spiritual pilgrims that they should approach God in prayer as “Our Father…”]
Since we all have mildly or wildly dysfunctional dads (everyone except my boys, of course), we are bound to carry some pretty messed up ideas about Who He is into prayer conversations. I think Jesus is, at least in part, trying to correct those kinds of things in His circle that day with this story and in me, right now. So, here’s a few of the things I’m learning/re-learning about my Abba/Dad in this story:
- He is generous – to a fault, surrendering his estate before his life was over just because He loves to give
- His actions are packed with loving longing – He is long-loving. He didn’t stop loving when his boy resisted his affections, rebelled against his values, vacated the premises, failed to write home, crashed his credit limit, lived loosely, took jobs way beneath him, or came crawling back home
- He is flash-forgiving – He exchanges a grudge for a hug in a hurry. In Louisiana frying is a staple of food preparation; breakfast, lunch, or supper. Many New Orleans restaurants have mastered the flash-fry as a method. Use less breading and twice-as-hot grease to cook the food really fast. It is fantastic – seals the flavor. But, it is not as good as flash-forgiving
- He pays the high and expensive grace-price without batting an eye – in this case, the life of the fatted calf – the best of the best – the one set aside for whatever a once-in-a-lifetime event might have been; maybe even the one being prepped for worship
- He is also kind toward those already in and those coming in – don’t forget the big brother… Dad absolutely loved Him too, regardless of his stinking thinking
BUT (and this is my huge ah-ha of late) there is one incredibly important way that this dad was not like our Father… He didn’t travel to a far off country or sit down with the pigs.
Our Dad, has!! That’s Good News. And He continues to do so – that’s Great News.
He is right here with me (and you) right now. He is acting generously toward me, loving longingly for me, flash-forgiving me, and doing so at great cost. He is that way toward me when I stray and when I stay, when my thinking is self-centered and when it is just plain stinking.
This is not just what He does, it is Who He is. This is the kind of Father I want to know – intimately, up-close, personally. I want His DNA to create someone similar in me. Don’t you?