Have you ever put yourself in an unwise or compromising situation only to find your momentary or monumental lapse in judgment exposed and exploited by those you once trusted? Calculated disclosure is the lifeblood of tabloids, soap operas, and petty gossips. Why is it that catching someone with their proverbial pants down, sells?
Could it be that somewhere, in the dark regions of the human heart, there lurks a less-than-praiseworthy part of us that has a morbid fascination and perverse pleasure in seeing the foibles and failures of others trotted out for the world to see? Could it be that uncovering another’s nakedness, makes us feel, by comparison, a little more smug in our paper-thin shrouds of self-righteousness?
To recap, Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15 that I began unpacking two columns ago: an impatient son disgraces his family by demanding his inheritance while his father still lives. He then recklessly squanders it all on loose living and returns home, hat in hand, begging to be taken back into his father’s household as a slave.
At this point, the listening crowd would be fully engaged – clicking their tongues in disgust, shaking their heads and fists in judgment. They knew how this parable played out. The returning playboy deserves nothing but shame, derision, and a life of miserable servitude. But Jesus throws them a theological curveball, and it is nothing short of scandalous! Jesus continues, “… while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.”
This was culturally unthinkable on many levels. The son was a reprobate, a social outcast. The consequences could have been severe punishment, or even death. Moreover, important, wealthy men ran nowhere – people ran to, and for, them. But this father had constantly been scanning the horizon, hoping, and praying for his beloved boy’s return.
When he recognizes the broken limping figure in the far-off distance, he casts his dignity aside and runs like the wind to reach his son and shield him from censure and retribution. With tears of joy flowing down his cheek, the emotional father kisses his starving, stinking son, and clasps him to his breast in a fierce and yet tender, healing embrace.
This twist in the tale was mind-blowing for those listening to Jesus’ story, but it got better still! The son begins repeating the words of repentance that he has been rehearsing all the way home: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father says to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The crowd would have been speechless. What? Wait a minute. No long, angry lectures? No penance? No public humiliation or punishment? Nothing but forgiveness, love, and instant restoration to his former full glory, honour, and authority as a son? Given a royal reception and celebration just as if he had never sinned or broken his father’s heart? What gives?
1 Peter 4:8 declares, “… love covers over a multitude of sins.” Genesis 3:21 tells us that when our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
A loving God can neither ignore sin nor diminish the seriousness of it. Instead, He made a way to overcome it. 1 John 1:9 promises us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The good news for every sin-sick and weary prodigal is that there is a love that covers and restores, and it is ours for the taking!
Cynthia Pelletier is the pastor of Kinnaird Church of God.