One of Jesus’ most powerful parables is also one of the most well known: the story of the prodigal son. In terms of offering hope nothing matches the incredible story of God’s redemption and grace.
You may recall that the younger of the father’s two sons demanded his inheritance before his father died. It was an audacious and arrogant ultimatum but one the father agreed to honor. Upon receipt of his share of the estate, the son sets off for a foreign land where he quickly squanders the funds on riotous living. Destitute and starving, he lands a menial job feeding swine. For a young Jewish boy nothing could be more humiliating. He had hit rock bottom.
In time he comes to his senses and decides to return home. Certain his behavior has permanently severed the relationship with his dad, the son develops a narrative he hopes earns his dad’s mercy: “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (Luke 15:18-19, NLT).
The son believes his father loves him conditionally. As long as he acts uprightly, honors the family name, and doesn’t rebel, his father will love him. But any shameful or inappropriate behavior will cause that love to cease. In light of his debauchery the son concludes his dad no longer considers him family. His only hope lies in offering to work as a servant.
Does that reflect your view of God? Have you failed Him in the past and now believe He no longer loves you? Has a lifetime of rebellious behavior led you to conclude you can never be part of God’s family? Do you share the prodigal son’s view that you have to earn God’s mercy or that His forgiveness is conditioned on acts of contrition? If so, you’re going to love the rest of this story.
As the son approaches home his dad sees him and races out to greet him with hugs and kisses. Awash with joy, the father ignores the entreaty his son has rehearsed and instead tells the servants to bring a luxurious robe, the family ring, and comfortable sandals for his son to wear. What’s more, he instructs the staff to kill the prized calf and prepare a feast. It’s time to celebrate! What a remarkable contrast to the reception the prodigal son expected.
Jesus’ point could not be clearer. God loves unconditionally. Nothing we do – no sin, no act of rebellion – can separate us from His love. Equally comforting is the fact that we do not have to work our way back into God’s favor. He extends mercy to all who ask and does not insist we earn it.
Have you avoided God because you assumed He wouldn’t want you? Have you languished in despair over the idea that too much evil has flowed from your heart to earn God’s grace? Have you avoided committing your life to Christ because you believe He only calls the righteous? Well take heart. None of that is true.
God’s mercy and forgiveness await all who come. Like the father in the parable, He stands ready to receive you and enthusiastically awaits your arrival. Isn’t it time to take that journey?