God’s Character is Not Intimidated by Distance: New Lessons from a Familiar Story

“Then Jesus[b] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’  Luke 15:11-19

The story is familiar …at least in my mind. It seeps into my mind and heart through the filter of my contemporary Western European context. Still, I am pointed to God’s character: forgiveness granted unconditionally..As the “prodigal, I recognize the implications of my trespasses to my Father and others by my choosing distance. As the older brother, I am jealous by a Father who loves the rebel sibling with the same intensity as one who strives for obedience..

Last year, I realized I was missing something.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d](Luke 15:20-21)

N.T. Wright in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, brings this perspective: “…in Jesus’ world, the more senior you were in a community, the less likely you were even to walk fast. It shows a lack of dignity, of gravitas.

So when Jesus told a story about a man running, this was designed to have the same effect on his audience, if, say the Prime Minister were to show up for the state opening of Parliament wearing a bathing costume. It’s a total loss of dignity.”

And when we discover why this man is running, the effect is even more shocking. This man is running to greet someone: someone who has put a curse on him, who has brought disgrace on the whole family.”

Well, now ….what do I do with that?

God’s character is not intimidated by lack of reverence. God’s character is not intimidated by the extreme nature of the sin. God’s character is not waiting to respond until we have done “our part.”

God already begins running toward us before we have acknowledged our trespasses. Distance is not a means of separation.

Jesus tells us “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.” I admit I have struggled with the nuances of this this new Kingdom. How could God run toward me in such a posture of embrace? What does that imply for the way I “do likewise” as an image bearer and disciple to my human “siblings?”

God’s character penetrates the distance between us. I pray for a heart and a posture that becomes a vessel of pouring that truth into others.

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2 thoughts on “God’s Character is Not Intimidated by Distance: New Lessons from a Familiar Story

  1. Cindy

    Wow Stephanie! This is powerful! The vision of the father running toward his wayward son is one that is so humbling, it brings me to tears! Thank you for your insight and perspective! You’ve given me food for thought!

    Reply

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