Becoming the Father

On Sunday at Harris Creek, we studied the most famous parable Jesus ever taught, popularly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”[1] Judging by the response to this sermon, we still love this story today as much as ever, and for good reason. However, heading into this message I was worried that I might contribute to a problem I’ve battled since I’ve been in ministry. I was afraid that I would unintentionally feed into our desire to justify our sin, whether that sin is outright rebellion like the younger son or self-righteous rebellion like the older son.

In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen best summarizes the concern I had heading into this message. He says, “If the only meaning of the story were that people photo 1sin but God forgives, I could easily begin to think of my sins as a fine occasion for God to show me his forgiveness. There would be no real challenge in such an interpretation. I would resign myself to my weaknesses and keep hoping that eventually God would close his eyes to them and let me come home, whatever I did. Such sentimental romanticism is not the message of the Gospels.”[2] Nouwen goes on to say that the call in this parable is for us all to eventually become “the father” in the story. Of course, Jesus has placed God in the role of “father” in this parable. That is obvious. However, this does not mean we are destined to be one of the two rebellious children for all eternity. In other words, there is a reason Jesus says, “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”[3]

photo 2Becoming adopted children into the family of God and co-heirs with Christ is part of the transformation and regeneration that happens for the believer.[4] As a father, I can tell you nothing causes me to swell with pride more than when others say that one of my children looks like me.This is particularly the case with my son, Camden.[5] I believe the same is true when it comes to our Heavenly Father. God wants His children to rediscover what it means to be made in His image. However, we can only see this happen in our lives if we choose to enter into a meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father, through Jesus, and forsake our rebellious ways.

“The Parable of the Prodigal Son” is an amazing story about the grace and love of God. Some have even gone as far as to call it “the gospel within the gospels.” It has certainly earned its reputation and should, without question, shape our understanding of God; it is also helpful to remember it’s only one parable amongst many. To treat this parable as a license to continue living in sin is to miss the point of the story and is an indicator that you have actually missed out on the grace of God altogether. My prayer is that this famous teaching would remind us of God’s kindness and compassion, and that God’s kindness would lead us to true and authentic repentance.


[1] I talked on Sunday about why I believe it’s more appropriately called “The Parable of the Two Sons.”
[2] Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Pg. 123
[3] Luke 6:36, New Living Translation
[4] See Paul’s explanation of this in Romans 8:12-17.
[5] And no, this is not because I’m sexist. This is because I don’t want my daughter, June, to be cursed with my looks. She’s fortunate that she looks like her mom so far!

1 thought on “Becoming the Father”

  1. Here in rural Ethiopia, this is the one story that has been most effective for bringing people into covenant with Jesus. It’s often the first time they see that the Father is compassionate and welcomes them in.

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