The turning point in the story comes when the son decides to return home and appears at the edge of the village. He has worked on his speech and is bracing himself for the humiliation he will face when he tries to return to the family. He knows that the “Kezazah” ceremony is coming. He is empty handed and has insulted his family and is a failure in every respect.
But what about the father? He also knew that his son would fail and he also knows how the village will treat his son when he comes home. But, the father is so full of love for his lost son that he has already thought of a plan to save him. Day after day he waits expectantly, looking down the road that leads to the edge of the village. When he sees his son coming, he will run out to meet the boy before he gets too close and welcome him back and protect him from the wrath that will surely await him. If he can reconcile with his son in public, no one will treat his son badly. However, in order to achieve this goal, the father has to humiliate himself in front of everyone.
The father sees the son, “while he was yet at a distance” (Luke 15:20) . This distance is much more a spiritual distance than just the physical gap that separates the father and son. The father again breaks the role of a middle aged eastern patriarch and takes his long robes in his hand and runs through the crowded streets out to the edge of the village to meet his pig herder son. Out of great compassion, he empties himself and becomes a servant and runs to reconcile his son. By the father running, he has greatly humiliated himself. Traditional middle eastern men, wearing long robes, never run in public, because to do so would expose their legs. This was unheard of!
Then as the father reaches the prodigal, he falls on his son’ neck and begins to kiss him before he heard his son’s prepared speech. The father didn’t wait for his son’s confession of sin before he showed his love. He offered his grace first! The young man is totally surprised and is only able to get out the first part of his speech. Overcome with emotion as to what has taken place, he can only say, “I’ve sinned and am unworthy to be called your son”, and leaves out the part ,”will you let me work for you as a hired hand”. He changes his mind about trying to work his father’s love and surrenders his plan to save himself. His father has saved him first! If we are to understand the scene in this light, Jesus story has just demonstrated a new definition of repentance. Instead of having to confess, make compensation and demonstrate sincerity to restore the sinner to God’s favor, Jesus is saying, “I’ve been waiting for you and my grace is sufficient to redeem you from your lost condition”.
Just as the shepherd goes out to find his lost sheep and the woman diligently searches for her lost coin, the father must go out to find his lost son. The father didn’t just sit in the house and wait to hear what the lost son had to say for himself. He gave himself in costly love by running to him at the edge of the village. The son has a choice to make; he can insist that he will work and pay as a solution to the problem, or he can surrender to grace and accept being found like the sheep and coin. The father, as a symbol for God, quietly evolves into a symbol for Jesus. Jesus, as the Father, at great cost, offers reconciliation to each sinner. The image of God and Jesus as the father in this story shows their compassion, love, and life changing form in a way that no other Biblical literature can match. God is, “Love”, and this parable demonstrates it so wonderfully.
Now, to the next act in this beautiful story, the scene of the banquet and the older son. At this point, what is so interesting is that the father in the parable does exactly what Jesus is accused of doing; he receives a sinner and eats with him! In our next lesson we’ll see how the rest of the story plays out!