A prodigal's father: Lessons in forgiveness

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010

The annual arrival of Father's Day often reminds me of our Lord's familiar parable of the prodigal son: the story of the younger of a father's two sons who boldly requested and surprisingly received his portion of the family inheritance.

Upon receiving it, he headed to a distant country where he wasted all of his money. Finally, broke and feeding hogs for a living, he realized how foolish he had been and decided to penitently return home and ask for a job as one of his father's servants.

Those days while the prodigal was away had been long and sad for his father. And his loss of money wasn't the problem.

Actually, upon his younger son's request, this loving father had decided to give both of his sons their shares of the family inheritance, so the prodigal and his older brother who stayed home had simply received what they had coming to them; but the loneliness of the father, who loved this wanderer, grieved him continually.

Each morning probably found the father checking his absent son's bedroom, hoping he might have returned during the night.

The vacant chair and empty place at the table made every meal a melancholy memory and early evenings found this faithful father standing in a nearby field scanning the horizon in hope of seeing a familiar figure on his way home.

Then, one day, the miracle happened.

At his usual post near the end of the day, the watching father realized his prayers had been answered.

In the distance, he saw his prodigal son returning and he immediately began running to meet and embrace him.

This is the only example given in the Bible of God running, demonstrating His love for all who have wandered away and His open arms upon their return.

Now it's party time!

Meat, music and merriment consume the crowd.

But there is one member of the family who is in no mood to celebrate.

The older brother who returns from the field and hears music and rejoicing at the prodigal's homecoming lets loose a litany of complaints about his brother who has been away.

He accuses him of spending his inheritance on "riotous living."

Actually, there's no evidence that he or anyone else had any first hand information on why his brother has returned broke, but when we're bitter toward others we don't need the facts to criticize.

We're more likely to believe gossip and build our own case against those we dislike.

This grumbler also claimed he was never given anything by his father but had actually been given a larger inheritance than his brother.

Now the scene changes from the prodigal's homecoming party to his brother's pity party and the loving father has to leave the celebration to plead with his older son to forgive and rejoice, letting us know that this good man had two prodigal sons: one who humbly returned to be forgiven and one who was bitter and blaming.

The parable ends with the father pleading with his still prodigal older son.

And, each year, as Father's Day draws nigh;

I have to face the question: Which prodigal am I?

Roger Campbell is an author, broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at rcministry@ameritech.net

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