You accuse me of eating with sinners. You are absolutely right. That is precisely what I do. But as a matter of fact I not only sit down and eat with sinners, I rush down the road, shower them with kisses and drag them in that I might eat with them. It is much worse than you imagined!
- Kenneth Bailey, Jacob & The Prodigal
How do you view God? Do you see Him as a stern taskmaster waiting to pounce on us lowly humans the moment we make a mistake? Studies show that our perception of our heavenly Father tends to mirror the way we look at our earthly father. So, if we had a harsh, overly strict dad, we tend to think of God behaving the same way towards us. In stark contrast, Jesus provides a far different perspective for us in the story of the Prodigal Son, a parable with profound insight as to the nature of God’s love for His children.
We read in Luke 15:20: “…And while [the younger son] was still at a great distance, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him.” In picking apart this verse, I see three insights we can glean to find out more about God’s love.
The humiliation of the father in the Prodigal Son story provides a striking parallel to the humiliation that God took on for us on the Cross.
Have you ever observed someone making a fool of himself? Even if you are a detached bystander, such a scene can be excruciatingly hard to watch. When I see a person embarrassing himself on television – such as a singer singing the national anthem off key or an actor forgetting a line in a live performance – I find myself flipping the channel, as if that will somehow help end the awkward situation. Clearly, we all have a keen sensitivity to “shame” and “humiliation”, making it truly painful to observe, let alone experience.
We commonly hear the word “humility” associated with our walk with Christ, but how often in the church do we talk of “humiliation”? It is really a foreign concept. But the more you read through the New Testament and discover what God actually did for us on the Cross, you begin to realize that our all-knowing and all-powerful God willingly humiliated and shamed Himself for us. One of the best examples in the Bible demonstrating this is found in Luke 15 in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Ken Bailey’s amazing book The Cross and the Prodigal is one of our favorite books at Cana. In fact, David drew upon it in his recent series on the Prodigal Son at Cana Community Church. (You can watch David’s messages on our podcast at iTunes.) In the book, Bailey anwers the question - where is the cross in the parable of the prodigal son? After all, from a modern reader’s perspective, it sounds an awful lot like a message of “forgive and forget”. New Testament scholar and long-time missionary to the Middle East, Bailey draws on his extensive knowledge of both the New Testament and Middle Eastern culture to examine of this parable from a Middle Eastern perspective. In doing so, he powerfully demonstrates how the parable is more powerful and life transforming than what we might experience with a quick reading.