…and you’d best believe I *never* cry at books, particularly not theological ones! From Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God (page 18-20), an indepth look at the ‘Prodigal Son’ story from Luke 15:
…the younger son asks for his inheritance now, which was a sign of deep disrespect. To ask him while the father still lived was the same as to wish him dead. His relationship to the father has been a means to the end of enjoying his wealth, and not he is weary of that relationship. He wants out. Now. “Give me what is mine,” he says.
The father’s response is even more startling than the request. This was an intensely patriarchal society in which lavish displays of deference and respect for elders and particularly for one’s parents were of supreme importance. A traditional Middle Eastern father would be expected to respond to such a request by driving the son out of the family with nothing except physical blows. The father doesn’t do anything like that. He simply “divided the inheritance between them”. To understand the significance of this, we should notice that the Greek word translated as ‘property’ here is bios which means ‘life’. A more concrete word to denote capital could have been used but was not. Why not?
The wealth of this father would have been primarily in real estate and to get one third of his net worth he would have had to sell a great deal of his land holding. In our mobile, urbanised culture we don’t understand the relationship of people in former generations to their land…To lose part of it was to lose part of yourself and a major share of your standing in the community. We had all heard stories of powerful and successful CEOs, both men and women, chucking their whole careers in order to care for a hurting, needy child. While not an exact parallel, this is what the father does.
The younger brother, then, is asking the father to tear his life apart. And the father does so, for the love of his son. Most of Jesus’ listeners would have never seen a Middle Eastern patriarch respond like this. The father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honour as well as the pain of rejected love. Ordinarily when our love is rejected we get angry, retaliate and do what we can in order to diminish our affection for the rejecting person, so we won’t hurt so much. But this father maintains his affection for his son and bears the agony.
That last paragraph is where I choked up. I think I finally really love Jesus.
It reminds me a little of this bit from Rob Bell’s Sex God:
[The cross] speaks to us of God’s suffering, God’s pain, God’s broken heart. It’s God making the first move and then waiting for our response.
If you have ever given yourself to someone and had your heart broken, you know how God feels.
If you have ever given yourself to someone and found yourself waiting for their response, exposed and vulnerable, left hanging in the balance, you know how God feels.
If you have ever given yourself to someone and they responded, they reciprocated with love of their own, you know how God feels.
The cross is God’s way of saying, “I know what it’s like”…This is the God who holds out his hands and asks, “Would you like to see the holes where the nails went? Would that help?”