Moreover, this love is given without condition. It is independent of human actions and human volition. This is demonstrated in the father’s response to the son who rebels against his authority – a son who could not wait until his father’s death to possess what was his but took that which was to be given to him sometime later (disrupting order and ignoring the father’s will) and squandered it. His actions made him unworthy and he recognised that himself when he realised the position he had found himself in after leaving home. However, upon return, he found out that the father did not share his opinion. He father did not look at his present condition of being a rebel and sinner; an object of ostracism and punishment but he gave him back his personhood (a son). The scripture teaches us this principle in the book of Romans. Paul says that God (The Father) demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While lost and far away from home, the father still pursues us; he runs after us and accepts us as the sons that we are; not servants ( as the “lost” son thought was his only deserved position by virtue of his actions). There is nothing that anyone can do that can make God love him more than he already does or any less.
Additionally, the narrative tells of the younger son reaching as far as being among pigs. For Jews, this is more than sacrilegious. Jews dealt with nothing unclean because it, in turn, made them ceremonially unclean. They cannot fathom even associating with someone like that, much more God. However, Jesus shows how God is willing to embrace such a person in the father’s reaction to a returning son. The holy God of the universe chooses to become immanent among sinful mankind by embracing him; His justice finding expression in mercy and grace.
Further to, the narrative exposes the heart of the older brother towards his father. Angry at his father for appearing unjust, he talks about his own righteousness, making him worthy of more love than the other brother. Willcock says that this represents those who trust in themselves. Not only the fact that we are sons, make us equal before God but the reality of our humanity also equalises us before Him. Sin is an inherent quality in all of fallen humanity but the father’s love is extended towards all; those who wilfully reject his authority and walk away (younger son) as well as those who come to him but still despise his authority and sovereignty ( the older son). While in the immediate context, the parable may be speaking to the equality among Jews and Gentiles, it transcends racial and religious boundaries and tells a story of the equality among all of humanity because we all bear the “Imago Dei”.
But I also want to pay attention to the wider narrative of which this portion is a part. The entire narrative deals with lost things: a lost coin, a lost sheep and a lost son. Each, in varying stage of “lostness”. The coin was lost, did not know it was lost and was unable to find its way home so the woman relentlessly searched for that coin. The value which is insinuated in the passage to be miniscule but it was more about what it was worth to the woman that drove her to seek after it. The sheep was lost, knew it was lost but could not find its way home. In safety, the shepherd left the other sheep and went in pursuit of that lost sheep; again, placing value on the minority. Finally, there is a lost son who knew he was lost and was able to find his way home so when he returned what he found was a father running to him with arms wide open, in anticipation of his son’s return. Though we speak of lostness in the passage, the bigger story is not the lostness (how the passage is viewed through Jewish/human eyes) but the loving response of those who could not part with that which was considered “lost”.
Consequently, we must consider the value of this wonderful narrative in how we relate to people, primarily those who feel like and are considered outcasts, insignificant or rejects as well as how we must now present and represent the Gospel. How do we treat those who are mentally insane, in light of this scripture? How do we treat those who do not hold our faith (Christianity)? How do we accept those who are morally deviant: lesbians, gays, commercial sex workers, adulterers, murderers, and the person who processes his /her hair or wears jewellery…?
As we consider the purpose behind the author’s message we must bring this narrative into our modern day realities and more specifically, our Jamaican context. This gospel was written by one who was possibly marginalised because of his race/nationality. He picks up on Jesus’ story of these two sons and father and highlights the unconditional love shown towards the one who should automatically be undeserving of it. In that parable, Luke can situate himself and all the other gentiles to whom he, primarily, wrote. He communicates that same message to us today. We have a responsibility of taking the unconditional love of God to those who need it most. Does this make the older son less loved or less important? Certainly not! Does this make religious persons less important in God’s eyes? No! It only means that this Gospel that tells of God’s unconditional love is important to those who find themselves on the outside of religion and religious practices.
Furthermore in our interaction with people we must remember that each person represent God’s image and is deserving of His love and our respect. If we are to truly represent God and Jesus then we must see all men as God sees them. Philippians 2:1-7 tells of that imitation of Christ’s humility and value of humanity. As we share the message of salvation we must also do what we can to restore the personhood of those we serve. The father clothed the son who came to him in rags. He did not just accept as a son and say you are forgiven. He gave his son a different standard of life to that he knew while he was away from his home (and his father). Granted the abundant life is what he was meant to enjoy; nothing missing, nothing lacking. This is not a prosperity gospel message but it picks up on James discourse on faith that is worth recognition (James 2:14-25).
Codet, Frederic L. Commentary on Luke.1981.Kegrel Publications. United States of America.
Bock, Darrell, L.1994.Luke 1:1-9:50.Baker Book House Company.United States of America.
Hendriksen, William. 1978. New Testament Commentary: Luke. The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh.
Van Doran, Williams,H.Gospel of Luke.1981. Kegrel Publications. United States of America.
Kaiser, Walters, C, Jr, Silva, Mois`es.2007. Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. Zondervan. United States of America
Willcock, Rev.J. 1978. The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The NIV Rainbow Study Bible