As those of you that know me from Coral Ridge or from Knox Seminary realize, my favorite gospel is that called Matthew. I must admit, despite my love for the gospel of Matthew, that one of my favorite parables is found only in Luke’s gospel. To help you hear it fresh, here is a different translation (the Cotton Patch Gospel)
Luke 15:11. He went on to say, â€œA man had two sons. The younger one said to his father, â€˜Dad, give me my share of the business.â€™ So he split up the business between them. Not so long after that the younger one packed up all his stuff and took off for a foreign land, where he threw his money away living like a fool. Soon he ran out of cash, and on top of that, the country was in a deep depression. So he was really hard up. He finally landed a job with one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed hogs! And he was hungry enough to tank up on the slop the hogs were eating. Nobody was giving him even a hand-out.
â€œOne day an idea bowled him over. â€˜A lot of my fatherâ€™s hired hands have more than enough bread to eat, and out here Iâ€™m starving in this depression. Iâ€™m gonna get up and go to my father and say, â€˜Dad, Iâ€™ve sinned against God and you, and am no longer fit to be called your sonâ€”just make me one of your hired hands.â€™
â€œSo he got up and came to his father. While he was some distance down the road, his father saw him and was moved to tears. He ran to him and hugged him and kissed him and kissed him.
â€œThe boy said, â€˜Dad, Iâ€™ve sinned against God and you, and Iâ€™m not fit to be your son any moreâ€”â€™ But the father said to his servants, â€˜You all run quick and get the best suit you can find and put it on him. Get his family ring for his hand and some dress shoes for his feet. Then I want you to bring that stall-fed steer and butcher it, and letâ€™s all eat and whoop it up, because this son of mine was given up for dead, and heâ€™s still alive; he was lost and is now found.â€™ And they began to whoop it up.
â€œBut his older son was out in the field. When he came in and got almost home, he heard the music and the dancing, and he called one of the little boys and asked him what in the world was going on. The little boy said, â€˜Why, your brother has come home, and your daddy has butchered the stall-fed steer, because he got him back safe and sound. At this he blew his top, and wouldnâ€™t go in. His father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, â€˜Look here, all these years Iâ€™ve slaved for you, and never once went contrary to your orders. And yet, at no time have you ever given me so much as a baby goat with which to pitch a party for my friends. But when this son of yoursâ€”who has squandered the business on whoresâ€”comes home, you butcher for him the stall-fed steer.â€™ But he said to him, â€˜My boy, my dear boy, you are with me all the time, and whatâ€™s mine is yours. But I just canâ€™t help getting happy and whooping it up, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive; he was lost and has been found.â€™ â€
Jordan, C. (2004). The cotton patch gospel. Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys Pub.
Here is a copy of the famous painting called ‘The Return of the Prodigal’ by Rembrandt:
A couple of interesting things about this painting. One is that the prodigals face is unseen. I think that is to remind us that this is our face. In the midst of this heartrending scene, we all, who depend upon the grace of God are in the middle. Not proud because we have forgiven someone else, but thankful because we have been forgiven. Until we realize how much we have been forgiven of, it is impossible for us to show the kind of forgiveness that we should to others.
A second thing, and maybe this is just me, but look at the father’s hands. It seems that the left hand sits on the shoulder of the boy with great strength, it is a powerful, manly hand. The right hand, situated between the returning prodigals shoulder blades seems almost feminine. It is a picture of the justice and mercy of our father. A strong hand of justice that did not just “forget about” our sin, but required payment be made (in the form of our Lord); a gentle hand of love that does not overlook justice, but makes a way for the prodigals to make a way back home in spite of our having wasted our money.
This story and thus this painting speaks to me in a way that the phrase “God loves you” does not. Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I hope not. Somehow I think that there are lots of us who have hearts of poets who are spoken to by stories, songs, and paintings. Maybe you have one of those inside you. Let your story, your song, your poem out; for the glory of God and the blessing of those of us who are a little different.
Knox Seminary’s incurable story lover,