⁷And is a father angry at his son because he failed to understand the truth? (ACIM, W-fl.in.5:7)
This is a well loved story. The writer of Luke gives us three scenarios in chapter fifteen illustrating how humanity gets back to the Father and the Fathers response. God receives, finds and cares for everyone. ALL people. We don’t know it until we realize we have lost, misplaced and wasted what we once had. Once the search begins and the effort is made to return, the response of the father is to meet us on the way back, rejoices and throws us a party.
However Jesus wants to make a very specific point to the religious leaders of his time and throughout all time, which is, God finds and welcomes everyone.
The truly lost person is the one convinced by his/her good life that those who in their eyes have not lived up to the standards they themselves adhere to and so don’t deserve the party. We see this in the elder brother of the Lost Son story. We find out that both sons are lost but manifest it different ways and yet the same is required of both: acceptance, forgiveness and love. This is what God does and She wants us to be the same towards ALL people. That is the ticket to the party.
Many people make a big point about the “price” that must be paid, the cost of entry to the party. The issue is, “justice must be served”. A “just” God requires payment for the misdeeds of sinners. This sacrificial system instituted millennia before by ancient cultures and adopted over and over again throughout centuries by humans wanting something from a mysterious deity or deities, like safety, protection, survival, food, release from slavery, the end of wars, victory in battle etc., etc. This need to placate an angry god was adopted by the Hebrews from the cultural milieu they lived in. Much later it was transformed by the early Christians as an explanation for the crucifixion of Jesus. Culturally this was all the first century church could come up with because that was all they knew. Something or someone had to die to satisfy an angry God out there.
Try to imagine how difficult it would be for you to see a world different than the one you currently live in. Not only can we not imagine it we would be extremely frightened to attempt to live in it. A relatively recent call to do so is found in John Lennon’s song Imagine. In ancient times as today “sacrifice” is lauded as the highest act one can perform.
The killing of the innocent to pay for the misdeeds of the guilty. Is that Justice? Does any legal system on this planet require the innocent to be punished in place of the guilty? Did God require the elder son to die to pay for the sins of his brother? Did the father die to pay for the sins of either son? What price was to be paid by the shepherd to find the lost sheep? What price did the woman pay to find her misplaced coin? Did anyone die to facilitate the happy outcomes described by Jesus in these stories? No.
Jesus’ one purpose was to show humanity what God was really like. See John 14:9—“…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, show us the Father?”
Also see Luke 4.18,19 and compare it to the passage Jesus was reading in Isiah 61.1-4. Jesus left out one phrase: “…and the day of vengeance of our God…”
Jesus is showing us God is NOT a God of vengeance but of mercy, a God who sets people free from the self-imposed prisons they find themselves in.
In 1 Cor 13:5 Paul writes, “…it (God/Love) keeps no record of wrongs….” (NIV Study Bible, eBook . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Since there is no record then there is no need for punishment. We are not guilty from the start, before Jesus was crucified.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hos 6:6
also Matt 9:13 and 12:7 The author of Matthew has Jesus quoting the Hosea declaration. Matthew thought this quote from Hosea important enough to repeat it, twice.
And yet this statement has gone unheeded just as much today as it did in Hosea’s and Jesus’ time.
What price was paid? It cost the shepard time and inconvenience. The woman expended the same dedication, inconvenience and time. It cost the younger son the “sacrifice” of leaving a wretched life and dedicate himself to going home. It cost the elder son a fated calf for the party. However he was the only one not willing to spend the effort and forgive his brother and by his own choice refused to attend the celebration. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount in the Lords prayer: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
In each story the main characters were “punished” justly for their own mistakes by the effort it took to make things right again.
Jesus doesn’t have much to say about the older son but commentators seem to agree he was pointing fingers at the Pharisees and maybe the Sadducee’s, those who at that time were considered the Law keepers, those who tried to keep the Law of Moses in order to please God—the fundamentalists of Jesus’ day. These were people who could keep the Law but be far removed from the Spirit of the Law.
“…not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”(2 Cor. 3.6) Paul sure knew this one from direct experience.
When Paul wrote that maybe he had in mind his involvement in the stoning of Stephen, during his personal crusade to wipe out the new born Christian movement within Judaism? Read the full account in Acts 6-8. In Acts 7:58 we read “And cast him (Stephen) out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul (Paul)”. The laying down of clothes at Saul’s feet would be an act of reverence for the leader of the event (see Chap 8:1).
So for Paul this would have been a very painful memory from his time as a Jewish fundamentalists. Then in Chap 9.1 we read “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest” There he was given permission to continue his persecutions.
Paul’s memory of that event taught him how rigid adherence to doctrine would lead a person away from the very thing he was trying to accomplish: finding favor in Gods eyes. Paul would not find favor in Gods sight till he had the spiritual experience in Acts Chapter 9 when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road. After this experience Paul had to do his own return journey to the Father.
Then Dad gave him a big hug put the cloak of love and forgiveness on his shoulders–not the cloaks of the collaborators placed at his feet—and welcomed him into the banquet hall to join his brothers and sisters.
“Here is the only “sacrifice” You ask of Your beloved Son; You ask him to give up all suffering, all sense of loss and sadness, all anxiety and doubt, and freely let Your Love come streaming in to his awareness, healing him of pain, and giving him Your Own eternal joy. Such is the “sacrifice” You ask of me, and one I gladly make; the only “cost” of restoration of Your memory to me, for the salvation of the world.” A Course in Miracles: Lesson 323 (p. 1528). Foundation for Inner Peace. Kindle Edition.
The prodigal son in a broader application:
Yesterday I was pondering this subject when the song Desperado began to play. It has been one of my favorite tunes throughout the years by helping me to remember my own journey of return to the Father. I realized not only is the story of the Prodigal son about individuals but also a call to the human race to return as well.
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
But I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow
Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet
And it seems to me some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get
Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom, well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone
Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night-time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you
(Let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you
Before it’s too late
Songwriters: Don Henley, Glenn Frey. For non-commercial use only.
When I am healed I am not healed alone. And I would bless my brothers, for I would be healed with them, as they are healed with me. ACIM W 137.15