“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” ~ Luke 15:20
This particular verse is located in one of the more famous stories of the new testament. Most have heard the story of the prodigal son over and over and could repeat it with great accuracy. It is not my desire in this writing to examine the entire story. Rather, I want to consider one particular aspect of this verse and the lesson it teaches us. Before we consider this particular verse let me establish a few truths that are necessary to understand about the overall lesson.
- The story of the prodigal son is about disciples not about eternal salvation. The son was a son before he left and was still a son after he returned. This story is not about one gaining eternal salvation but rather about repentance and our walk in service to the Lord.
- Although not recorded in this lesson, no doubt after the celebration was complete the father had very stern words for the son and his walk was closely observed.
- The father’s love for the son is never the question in this story. Rather, it is about the son pulling away from the father. The same is true in our lives. The love of God is never the question but rather our devotion to him.
So with those things established let us consider the particular events that are recorded in Luke 15:20.
A Father Runs
Luke records that when the father saw him from afar off that he ran to greet him. This reaction seems very natural to us. We see stories all the time about family members that have been separated for a variety of reasons and when they see each other again they run to greet one another. While this seems perfectly normal for us today, we must remember that we have to read this story based on the time in which it was written.
In the first century it would have been very shameful for a Jewish man to have run anywhere. Jewish men wore tunics that covered them all the way to the ankles. In order for this father to have run to meet his son he would have had to hike up his tunic. This action would have shown his bare legs which was a highly shameful thing to do. By considering this verse from a first century perspective we understand that not only was the father over-joyed to see his son, he was actually willing to bear shame on his behalf.
What does this mean for us?
With this understanding we must be careful about how far we try to extend this verse. Some have tried to apply this lesson to Christ going to the cross and enduring that shame. Certainly it is true that Christ endured shame, reproach, and incredible torture on our behalf. However, we must keep the lesson in the context of what was being taught. Christ makes it clear that this story is about repentance not about redemption.
So what does this mean for us? Repentance in our lives should never be something we are ashamed of. While we do not rejoice in the behaviors that led to the need to repent, we should remember that the act of repentance brings joy to the father. How much joy? So much joy that when we repent the Father is likened unto a natural father that was so overjoyed he would bear shame to go and meet his son.
We have a tendency to believe that Christ will eventually be so ashamed of us and the mistakes we continue to make in our walk and service to him that forgiveness will not be granted. This lesson teaches us that no shame could ever overcome his love for us and his desire to see us repent and walk a better path. No matter how great our sins or how long they have progressed the greatest call to action for the believer is to repent and seek the Lord.
May the Lord bless you this day.