“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him.
His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”
(Luke 15:20, The Message)
If you understand the historical context, you begin to realize that the story was intended to be radically offensive to the listeners. A well-to-do Middle Eastern man of that era would NEVER hike up his robes and run, much less to go out and meet a son who had asked him, quite literally, to act like he was dead and give said son his ⅓ of the estate. It just wasn’t done. Besides, if that son had any sense of pride at all, he either would have died in that far-off country or at least never come back to his home town and risk disgracing anyone involved. No, it was definitely offensive - and that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told it.
But there is another concept that comes into play, and it’s one that isn’t in the text. I hadn’t considered it until I picked up Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God” and read it. Keller introduces a chapter about the true elder brother. And that’s where the story really shows the heart of God our Father.
The elder brother in the parable was disdainful, both of his brother’s actions and his father’s grief. He wanted little more than to forget it all and move on. He was now lord of the manor - all that was belonged to him legally. And we all know what Jesus had to say about that attitude.
But consider the concept of the true elder brother. Consider one who, upon seeing the grief of his father, took it upon himself to seek out the younger brother and bring him back home. Acting at his own expense, he sets off to that far country and risks everything to show the father’s love (and his own) in attempting to win his estranged brother back.
And, as Keller points out, that’s exactly what Christ did for us. At his own great expense, he carried out the plan to rescue us. He does it because the Father’s heart is broken. The True Elder Brother of us all, comes to us in our darkest hour and offers redemption. What a beautiful story - and what a radically offensive picture of a love we can barely comprehend.
As I travel the Crooked Path, I do so as a redeemed younger brother of Jesus. The price he paid to give me the opportunity to reconnect with the Father was beyond measure. Yet he did it willingly … and that’s quite a radical thought for my journey.