The Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son is perhaps Jesus’ best recorded teaching about God’s forgiveness. Through it, Jesus emphasized how much God wants us to come back to Him when we stray away into sinful, self-defeating lives. While this story has great impact today, it was even more shocking to its first audience. It’s important to remember that the common peoples’ impression of Jesus was often that he was a teacher or rabbi, and rabbis would often tell traditional stories to illustrate points. A common story was the start of Jesus’ prodigal son story: a cautionary tale to not reject your family and heritage. In this version, the son takes his inheritance. This was a great insult to his father, because it sent the message that his father was dead in his eyes and he didn’t care about him anymore. The son leaves and spends it all, becomes broke and homeless, and then is shunned by his father. The message of this version of the story was “You made your bed, now sleep in it”. When Jesus started telling a story about a man with two sons, with the younger taking his share of the inheritance, the first listeners of the story thought they had heard it before and that Jesus was just telling the stories any rabbi would. They would have been shocked, though, when this time Jesus turned the story on its head to convey a very different message. In spite of everything the son has done, the father welcomes him home out of sheer love, and even celebrates his return. Being forgiven is a painless process, it is only the lead-up that we hold ourselves back on. Like the son, it can take being completely desperate before we really stop and realize that we’ve completely messed up and enslaved ourselves by doing what we thought was rebellious and liberating. Even then, overcoming fear and pride to admit it to God and people who can help us can be difficult. But when we do, God forgives instantly. No judgment is required aside from our admission that what we did was wrong. And no punishment is required other than the residual effects that we cause on our own, like addictions that need to be overcome. By turning this traditional rabbi story on its head, Jesus teaches us that God will never reject us. It’s only us who reject Him. Even if we do, we can always come back to God’s loving embrace and be welcomed into His kingdom.