“But while he (the younger son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
During the first century, a patriarch never ran.
If he were to run, he would have to hitch up his tunic so he would not trip. If he did this, his legs would be exposed which constitutes an act of humiliation, based on the culture of the time.
However, the father reacted with great excitement at the sight of his lost son and saved him from kezazah; a ceremony where the community would break a large pot in front of the now Gentile son and yell, “You are cut off from your people!”
So the father ran and humiliated himself to get to his son before his law-abiding neighbors. In the sight of such disgrace, the village would have followed the father and witnessed their embrace, as he fell upon his neck and kissed his son fervently and repeatedly. It was clear that there would be no rejecting this son—despite what he had done.
The father’s reaction is what we know as redemption…
…complete love that ignores the religious prayer of repentance. The son weeps, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”
But the father redirects the conversation away from the rehearsed words of repentance and instead pulls his son into a deep embrace of redemption.
In everyone’s eyes, being a servant would have been a just and fair treatment, but the father was not interested in what his son’s behavior deserved. Instead, he took the restoration farther than anyone thought possible, calling for the servants to bring his best robe and shoes, the father clothed the boy in a manner befitting of one who was to be known as an heir rather than an outcast. There were no more rocks to hurt the young man’s feet, no more heat to burn his skin; every step from that moment onward would feel like forgiveness.
Then the father gave his son a ring, just like Pharaoh did when he removed his signet ring and put it on Joseph’s hand as he was installed into office in Egypt. The ring carried the family seal and from that moment onwards his inheritance was returned. Wherever the son would press his finger on a wax receipt, the price for anything was paid in full. This lost child now looked like his father, walked like his father, and could rule like his father.
Even if the story stopped there, it would have been offensive enough, challenging enough, and glorious enough…
…but, like a man drunk with joy, the father puts no limit to the occasion. He continued his display of extravagance with a party: “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate,” exclaimed the father between smiles, hugs, and tears of joy.
There were zero accomplishments to highlight, no Hallmark holidays on the calendar, and no sports games won. This party was purely based on unconditional love. This happy dad was willing to show off his mercy and celebrate the fact that his boy was alive, and everyone was invited to taste and see that this father was good.
In telling this parable, Jesus was not trying to define the quality of the sinner; He was exposing the character of His Father.
He was changing the conversation away from our capacity to do right or wrong and redirecting our gaze to see how His love transcends individual behaviors.
God the Father is the true prolific Father for every son and daughter. With you He is, “Recklessly extravagant, having spent everything, given in abundance, and oh so lavish.”
Our challenge now is to accept the embrace, wear the robe, put on the ring, and call ourselves as our Father sees us: son, daughter, heir.