What Grace Looks Like

March 31, 2019

Summary

Did you know that the Bible was written without chapters and verses?  Actually, the oldest copies in existence that we have, do not even have punctuation. So, you see that chapter numbers, and verse breaks have been added, as have the titles that certain translations and versions of the Bible add, before teachings and parables to let the reader know what will happen next.

I need to tell you, I do not like these titles, or headings that I have just described.  For one, they tell you what is about to happen, the narrative parts of the Bible are stories, don’t give the plot away before I read it, that ruins the story!  Come on people.

Secondly, the translators are actually only giving you their idea or worse, their interpretation of the following story or section.  This is actually their way of leading you into their belief of what is being said.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.  What is the name of the story, the parable that I just read from the Gospel of Luke?  Go ahead, say it aloud!

“The Prodigal Son.”

That’s correct.  That is what we, in English at least, usually call this parable of Jesus.  This title makes Jesus’ parable all about the younger son. Naming the parable after the son, who demanded his inheritance and left to experience the world’s wild side, makes him the subject of the story.  Right?

Well, not so fast.  The younger son, the Prodigal Son is definitely the subject of the first part of the story, but he does not remain so.  Near the end of the parable the older son claims the spotlight for a bit too, doesn’t he?

And so, I would guess for many of us, when we read the story we find ourselves sympathizing with one of the sons, either we relate to the Prodigal son, or conversely to the Sullen son, who stayed home.  At least this is what I have found when studying this parable with Bible study groups over the years.

In doing so, we make ourselves the subject of the story in our analysis, or contemplation of it.  Does that sound right?

But let me ask you, if you read the story again, trying to throw away the title that has always been fed to you, who really is the main subject of the story?  Who is this story truly all about?

Take a moment.  Anybody have a guess?

Yes, the father.  This story is really about the father and his actions, his reactions towards each of his boys.

Jesus describes the two sons, the brothers in ways that place them at odds with one another, doesn’t he?  The younger son leaves, while the older stays.  The younger son asks for everything, while his brother asks for nothing.  The prodigal son is repentant, while the sullen son is angry. Yet too often we get caught up in only thinking of the sons, and we seem to look past the father.  We can name, describe the sons both the prodigal, and the sullen one, but what about the father?  What adjective would we use to name the father?

The father is gracious.  The father is loving.  The father is forgiving.  The father is inviting.  The father is…well, the father is wonderful, isn’t he?

Think of how he acts towards his sinful sons.

The son, who in demanding what will be his, meaning upon his father’s death, receives his inheritance and goes and wastes it all…all of it.  Only then, when he is hungry and destitute does he conceive of the plan to go home.  But, it is to go home not as a son, but a servant, a slave even, not able to imagine that his father would forgive him for what he has done.

Then the other son, the sullen son, well his is the sin of omission.  Though living with his father all of his years, he has never acknowledged his father’s gracious ways and so, has never even asked his father for anything, and yet blames his father not giving him what he desired.  We might call his sin faithlessness, for he had not faith in his father’ love.

But the father, what does he do?  Twice he goes out, he leaves his respect and position to go and show a son, each of his sons, that he loves them.  We immediately see his love and so his forgiveness when he runs off to greet his derelict boy, not even allowing the young man the chance to try and explain himself.  NO, the father runs out to accept, nay, to pull his son back into his loving arms.

It is much the same when it comes to his older son too.  The father goes out to him to soothe his anger and to surround him with his love as well.

The father could have sat in his house and waited for each boy to come to him.  He could have forced his younger son to act out his elaborate ritual of confession, forgiveness and request for servanthood.  He could have even withheld his forgiveness, until the boy had proven his sincerity to change.  Like he could have waited for his older son to come in angry, and then berated him for even asking for his desire.  But no, the father pursued each of his boys, and so expressed his grace and love for each of them.  He invited them to fully be a part of the family.

In the exact same way, God pursues us with love too.  We are also his children, and so he does not wait, but comes to us offering forgiveness, and love wrapped up in his grace.  God reminds us that we too are a full part of his family, or another way of putting this, is of his kingdom.

Whether at a given time in our lives, we are acting like the Prodigal son, or the Sullen son, God is the ever-loving father.  He is the one rushing down the road to enwrap us in his loving arms, not withholding anything for his wayward child.  God also walks out into the night to remind us to ask for not only what we need, but what we desire too, so that we do not sulk in the shadows.  We are his, full members of his family, invited to live fully in his kingdom.

For Jesus did not come only to forgive sins, and to offer us salvation, but even more he came to show us that we have a place in his kingdom, in his very presence.

You are God’s beloved child, and he waits for you with open arms.

Amen.

Bible References

  • 2 Corinthians 5:16 - 21
  • Luke 15:1 - 3
  • Luke 15:11 - 32

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