The lost father of the prodigal son
Over the last 10 years, as some of you may know, I have had to learn to “Let go”. As a father, or in my particular case, a step-father, this is never an easy thing. We want the best for our children. We want them to learn from our mistakes and not have to face the hardship, broken hearts or sometimes worse consequences of their actions. We are saddened when they make decisions that we know will impact their lives forever. We are frustrated when they make choices that we know will lead nowhere good. So we respond, react or try to control their behavior.
Now, with little children, this is relatively easy to do. You swat them on the hand, you pat them on the behind and hopefully they will learn that the stovetop is hot or that putting a paperclip in the wall outlet is perhaps not the safest thing to do. These things hurt… and we desperately want to protect them from getting hurt.
As our children get older, we resort to grounding or loss of certain privileges. Bad school grades result in no TV or no computer time. Being home late for curfew leads to “Not going anywhere next weekend”.
But what do we do as they get older ? Where do we men, called to be the head of our households, turn to ? As our older children seek more independence, we experience more pressure and strain on our relationship with them. As they make choices we don’t approve of, so increases the conflict we may experience with them.
Turn with me to Luke 15:11. I am sure, we all know the passage so well. It’s the story of the prodigal son. Now, most of the time we focus on the prodigal son and how he repents and comes back to the father. Sometimes we’ll focus on the father, and how his unconditional love welcomes the fallen son back into the house. I have found one series focusing on the older brother. How we are quite often like the older brother who is jealous for doing “everything right”, yet it seems that those who don’t “live by the rules” get the earthly rewards.
This time however I would like to look at just one verse in this passage and focus on the reactions and behavior of the father at the beginning of the parable. Let’s read:
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
Let’s look a little bit at what’s going here. In 1st century Judea, it wouldn’t be necessarily uncommon for property to be divided amongst the heirs if the father was incapable of running the affairs. This may sound farfetched, but as we know in 1st century Judea, the law specified that the older sons gets twice the property of the younger sons. Deut 21:17 says:
17 he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
Granted this verse speaks more about how a man who has two wives should treat a firstborn who is a son of the “unloved wife” (in case the firstborn son belongs to the unloved as we see in Deut 21:15), yet we need to look at the actions of the younger son in light of this commandment in Deuteronomy. And what we find is that the younger son approaches the father and asks for his share of the estate.
Now consider our current legislation, we realize that if one doesn’t explicitly state in a will how your property should be divided after your death, all your children will obtain an equal part. I don’t know about you, but I tried to imagine what my reaction would be if one of my children would approach me and say “Listen. I don’t want to wait until you die to get my piece of the inheritance, so why don’t you just give it to me now”. Would I burst out in laughter ? Would I get angry ? Would I just be absolutely baffled and surprised at the audacity of the question ?
I don’t think it’s that farfetched to compare the behavior of the younger son, who has a claim to 1/3 of the estate, to what would happen today with one of your children who may have the same claim.
So how should I react ? Let’s look at what this father in the parable did. Did he complain that his son was rebellious and disobedient ? It doesn’t necessarily state what the initial reaction of the father was. It all becomes a bit of conjecture and assumption. But what we do know is that the same chapter of Deuteronomy, chapter 21, provides some guidance on what a father can do with a stubborn and rebellious son:
18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones.
What we do know from Luke is that the father does not what the passage in Deut 21 prescribes. He does not take him out of the city to be stoned to death. No, the father, undoubtedly with a broken heart and very reluctantly, gives the son what he has asked for. He gives him his part of the estate.
I’m not advocating here that we should just give our children all they want or ask for and then send them on their merry way. If one of my children came and asked for their part of the inheritance I’d tell them to wait until the Lord calls me home. And we don’t know whether this father and son had a conflict about this. Whether there was screaming and yelling or a fall out or any of that sort. We just don’t have enough detail. But what we do know is that the father lets the son make a decision and go. So the son departs. And runs into trouble. Once again we don’t know how the father reacted. We don’t know if the father even knew whether his son was in trouble or not. I’m pretty convinced that if he did know, he would have been heartbroken. We don’t see the father going after his son. We don’t see him sending servants out to where his son is living to check up on him. Granted that with today’s abundance in communication mechanisms, telephones, e-mail, cell phones, twitter, facebook, etc.. it is indeed a lot easier and more convenient to stay in touch, yet this man is a wealthy man. He has livestock, he has robes, servants, etc.. Yet nowhere is mentioned that the man is trying to provide a safety net for his son.
And from the end of the story we know that it’s not that the man didn’t care. He loves his son. He rejoices when he comes back and sees the past mistakes he made. Yet he doesn’t force his son into following his father’s footsteps. Or force his son into accepting his advice.
Yet when his son returns, in verse 20 we see the father
20 felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
So what can or should we learn from this passage ? One of the things I gleaned from this is that it is ok to “let go” once in a while. To let our children face the consequences of their actions once in a while. We are called to pray for them. As a matter of fact we are commanded to pray for all men in 1 Timothy 2:1
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
We are definitely called to instruct them in the Lord’s ways in Deut 6:7
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
But above all, I believe we are being called to love them no matter what. It is ok to let them go, it is ok to let them make mistakes and deal with the consequences of their choices. But no matter what, we don’t see the father come back at them, vindictively with “I told you so”. He let’s them go, yet welcomes them back when they realize their mistakes.
I have always told my step-children that I can’t bear the consequences of their decisions. I can’t always be there for them to bail them out or make their “boo boo go away with a kiss”. They will have to face the results of their actions and they can take credit for the good outcomes. But regardless of whether the outcome of their decisions is good or bad, we will always pray for their safety, wisdom and guidance and if things don’t turn out all that good, there will always be a plate on the table and a bed for the night. I believe that that is what we as Christian fathers are being called to do.
So how about you ? Do you force your views, decisions and life experiences on your children ? Or do you get into constant conflict for trying to force your life, your experiences, your views upon them ? Or do you let them go, pray for them and lovingly coach, guide and accept them even with the bad decisions they may make in life ?