Today, it is a well-known fact that the Middle-East is a patriarchal culture. This is one of many aspects of this part of the world where our culture and their cultures don’t see eye-to-eye [to use a cliché].
Can you imagine how much more patriarchal it was in the time of Jesus?
Pastor Idleman has written about the act of the prodigal son taking his inheritance early from his father.
When the prodigal asked for his inheritance early, this was tantamount to wishing that his father was dead. At least that is what it communicated in that culture.
Elders were held in very high regard.
But what about how the Father acted when the son returned?
The culture dictated that the son be punished and yet the father did not do that.
Let’s set the scene:
Luke 15: 20 “While he [the son] 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.”
In that culture this is an example of a father humiliating himself. The village expected a father to take slow, dignified steps and never to run anywhere, surely not to a profligate son, someone who has shown him disrespect. Yet he raced down the road risking ridicule from his village.
When he arrives at his son, the village expected him to hit him and curse him for his disrespectful behavior but instead he kisses him and hugs him, in front of everyone.
This is the new order, the kingdom explained.
Grace in action.
This father is not a Pharisee, one who judges the behavior of others and labels them SINNERS. This is a human being who knows we all make mistakes and this son has made a big one.
But he has come home.
Suddenly other lost and found parables make sense, the sheep, the lost coin. The idea of staying at home is great but where is the rejoicing? The rejoicing comes from the sinner who returns home, the sheep that returns to the fold, the coin that was lost but now is found.
Are the father’s actions difficult for those watching to understand? Of course they are.
This is the new order. This is why Jesus came to earth to live among us. He says [Luke 15:7 “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Jesus loved the lost. He worked hard to preach to the lost. Yes, he even associated with the lost.
He wanted to bring them home with his unmerited, unsolicited love.
In his humiliation, the father of the prodigal hints at the humiliation that Jesus had to suffer on the cross.* Jesus took all our sins on himself as he suffered a humiliating, public death. The father of the prodigal took all his son’s sins on himself as he ran down that street, kissed his son and hugged him.
He did not care about what the “establishment” said he had to do. He just wanted his son to come home.
*credit for this idea goes to one of my favorite writers John Stott.