“A Love That Never Shudders at the State We’re In”
Of all the stories that Jesus tells, there are few that break and remake us, that lay our souls bare, that fire our hearts us with the hope of mercy like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story for broken sons and weary daughters, for love-sick fathers and grumbling exemplars of grim-faced duty. It is a story that describes the homecoming we all, I suspect, hunger for, even when we are only dimly aware of it. It is the story of what God looks like and how God loves, no matter what we look like, no matter how poorly we love.
This afternoon I came across this reflection on this story by Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic. I’ve read many words about this parable, but these, in particular, speak truth and hope to me today:
[T]his is about something else, a love that deliberately does not protect itself, a love that is radically unprotected on purpose, and is never going to stop to ask whether the younger son, like many junkies briefly boomeranging back to the nest, will tomorrow steal the silver spoons and the digital camera and be off again to the fun-bucket. A love that does not come naturally in a world of finite farms, and real inheritances, and exhaustible parents; a love which therefore can only be like a father running across the fields to kiss his ruined child.
But a love we might need anyway, if we’re going to get beyond deserving.
Yeshua tells the story with the bad boy’s viewpoint first, and then the brother’s, so that those who hear it must become both of them. Which we do, if we’re honest in the way Yeshua recommends. In every life, we have times when we play both parts. We ruin and we build. We’re chaotic and we’re the anxious maintainers of a little bit of order in the face of chaos. We could only join the older brother in asking for fairness, nothing but fairness, if we didn’t see ourselves at all in the lost boy.
Since we find ourselves in him as well, we too will need, at times, something far less cautious than justice. We too will need sometimes to be met on the road by a love that never shudders at the state we’re in, never hesitates to check what it can bear, but only cries: this is my son, who was lost and is found.
Image above taken from the 2012-13 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is a piece by Friedrich Peter called “Return of the Prodigal.”