“Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me,” the younger brother says to his father (Luke 15:12), effectively, demanding all of the benefits of sonship in advance of the father’s death. Something, simply not done in the ancient near-east; it was a slap in the face of the father, in essence saying, “You are dead to me. I do not care about you or your life. I do not want a relationship with you, I simply want to enjoy my life. Give to me what is mine!” Though entirely uncustomary, the father concedes, advancing portions of the estate to both of his sons.
Thus begins, one of the greatest scenarios of self will, and the life ensued. The picture is not simply one of an earthly father yielding the benefits of the inheritance to an offspring, but rather, concurrent demand of blessing, absent any submission to authority of the divine pater. The parable, found in its entirety in Luke 15:11-32, is one which has taken the name The Prodigal Son; prodigal does not mean one who goes, or one who goes and returns; it means one who indiscriminately spends–a spendthrift. This son has desired to reap all he can to his own flesh through a life of unrestrained hedonism.
His fate is certain. He spends all he has and begins to realize his need, thus necessitating employment. He’s hungry, desiring the rank fodder of pigs, but he couldn’t even get that. He lays mired in the stench of the pigs, his once refined clothing likely at its end, in envy of his father’s servants. In today’s language we would say that he “hit bottom,” or the “end of his rope.” He has set this course by his own free will, and the father allowed it. The grace of ruin has brought him there. The grace of ruin presents two options, to remain hopeless, lamenting the course of events, and crying foul to one’s “victimization.” Or, realigning one’s direction.
Upon reflection, he realizes his future would be better, even as a servant in his father’s house. The narrative communicates, “But when he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17); I love that phrase. When we say that one comes to their senses, usually the implication is that they had lost their minds prior to that, or minimally, they were lacking clarity of mind. This individual was able to see the fate of his desire; just as important, he is able to see what had been severed in his relationship with his father. He hastens to restore that relationship on any level.
He walks the long journey home, rehearsing his lines to the father. His body tattered, his once nice clothes in rags draped from his body, and smelling of his previous “pen-pals.” The father sees him from a long way off; he was longing for this moment of restoration. Uncharacteristic of a patriarch in the ancient world, the father runs, hoisting up his garments in an expedited attempt to reunite with his estranged son. The father is uninhibited at the presentation and the smell of His Son; He has nothing but grace…and an embrace. The son is fully restored to all the privileges of sonship: the robe, the ring, the sandals, and the celebration.
The parallel is oh so clear, played out time and time again throughout humanity. The picture is all too real, one in which I have engaged numerous times. If you are like me, you have taken many trips to “another country.” One, I presume most, if not all have experienced in the course of a journey of faith. God allows our unchecked free will to take us in the direction of our hearts, where ever that may lead. And, He allows that journey of rebellion to end where it ought, in a very lonely place absent the intimacy of the Father, at the ruinous bottom. And yet, He permits that grace of ruin to clear our minds, present our very true need, and draw us once again to Him.
You are facing in one of two directions: Heading away from, or moving toward God. If you are indeed moving toward the Sovereign, move even closer. If you are moving toward bottom, I pray you would reach it quickly and return home swiftly.
May the grace of ruin lead you back to the very blessings you once possessed in the arms of the Father. Back for good!
[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]