“I am no more worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:19)
We know the story of the Prodigal Son all too well. We’ve seen spoiled children and forgiving parents, and we’re sure we would never be judgmental like the older brother. Yet, this well-worn tale would hae shocked Jesus’ original audience.
The idea of asking for an inheritance before a father’s death was deplorable; the worst kind of disrespect. It was like saying, “I really can’t wait for you to die.” To make things worse, the son then went off to a far country, and blew his wealth in extravagance. Soon, he found himself caring for pigs, at the very bottom of the social rung, the most unclean kind of work for a Jew.
In his misery and hunger he devised a plan to make things up with his father. He would go back and ask to be reinstated as a hired servant. He could earn money with his hands and start to pay back his debts. Perhaps, after many years of making reparations, he thought, his father would owe him forgiveness. He wanted to repent, and, as the rabbis taught, it needed to be a lengthy, demanding process.
But the scene back home didn’t follow the time-worn script. The son never had time to grovel before his father or announce his careful plan. His father rushed out to him, almost tripping on his robe to catch him in an embrace. The son was overwhelmed, he cried out that he would never be worthy of such graciousness: “I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am not worthy to be called your son.” There would be no making amends, no earning his way back into favor. The new relationship is based on the father’s pure gift. He must be dressed in the finest, given new shoes, a banquet is summoned. Joy must fill the air. The father has a new son, a son who never deserved to be loved, a son converted by grace.
God the Father offers this kind of shocking grace to us, Jesus is saying. This Sunday’s epistle explains it well, “God was in Chris reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Jesus has come to us, like that foolhardy father, lavishing blessings we could never deserve. He invites us to give up our own projects at self-justification and open ourselves to his embrace.
Look it Up
Read Galatians 4:1-7. How does Paul’s distinction between a slave and a son relate to the prodigal’s change of heart?
Think About It
Why do you think we are never told if the older brother comes to the party?