“The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. . . . Jesus will make our world a perfect home again. We will no longer be living ‘east of Eden’ always wandering and never arriving. We will come and the father will meet us and embrace us and we will be brought into the feast” (Tim Keller, in The Prodigal God).
The parable of the two lost sons is a story for our time. Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son (or both), people everywhere long to experience home, hoping for the warmth, joy, and love that the word implies. Tim Keller says that this longing for home is not a neurotic fantasy but a reality. The Garden of Eden is our original home. God is our “original Father.” The ultimate secret of this story is this: there is a homecoming for all of us because there is a home.
According to the world Jesus lived in, the elder brother should have gone looking for the younger son and offered to bring him back at his own expense. After all he would now inherit everything that remained of the estate. When his father says, “Everything I have is yours,” it was literally true. But Jesus, the true elder brother, fulfills the expectation of the community – beyond their comprehension. He didn’t go just to the next country to find us; he traveled all the way from heaven to earth. He was willing to pay more than his inheritance; he gave up his own life. As Tim Keller says,
“According to the Bible, because of our true elder brother, God is going to wipe away all death, and wipe away all suffering, and wipe away all tears, and he’ll give us new bodies that run and are never weary. And it will be the ultimate feast” (The Prodigal God.)
Do you have a hard time seeing yourself as one who is, and always has been, loved by God. Do you believe you will always be welcomed home with joy? Do you believe the Gospel in your head but continue to be driven by approval, power and influence, fear, anger, or a lack of self-control in your heart? Do you believe that everyone is welcome to the feast that God prepares?
This story is not really about a prodigal son, it is about a prodigal God. The word prodigal does not mean wayward or disobedient; it means “recklessly extravagant.” In the story Jesus told, the father’s love was “reckless” because he refused to reckon or count the sins of his sons; he welcomed them with love. We have a prodigal God – a God who is famous for extravagant love and reckless grace, spending everything on something of value: you and me. We are called to swim joyously in this extravagant love – and extend it to others.