Perhaps you’re familiar with the more common title attributed to this story: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Ah. Now you’re with me, right? Most modern Bibles highlight this story as if it is primarily about the son. But really, this story highlights the heart of the father.
In the Old Testament God used the Law to reveal the heart and nature of man. In the New Testament Jesus used stories to reveal the heart and nature of God. This story is about a good, good father.
You can read the parable in its entirety in Luke 15:11-32. There are a few points I want to bring to your attention:
- The younger son’s request for his inheritance was likely a profound dishonor and humiliation for his father. He was, in essence, saying “you’re as good as dead to me.”
- Squandering an entire inheritance was highly discouraged, and possibly illegal in first century Judaism.
- At his lowest point, the rebellious son slept among swine.
What we see here are at least two incidents where the son broke the commands of Torah. Besides living among unclean animals, we see a level of dishonor, disrespect, and humiliation that very well could have given the father every right to bring his son to trial as a rebellious son as we see in Deuteronomy 21. Such extreme rebellion against his father could have warranted the death penalty in that ancient Jewish culture.
But instead of taking him to trial, instead of beating him with a rod in hopes of curbing his rebellious spirit, instead of lecturing and trying to control his son, this father gives him the gift of free will. Not only does he allow him to choose his own foolish way in life, but he ignores his own law-given right to protect his own reputation. When he could have taken him to trial for rebellion and dishonor, he gave up his financial security, his place of honor and standing in the community, and his own paternal instinct to protect his son.
The good father didn’t intervene. He didn’t punish. He allowed his son to learn hard life lessons from the natural consequences of his very foolish choices. And Luke 15:20 tells us that when that lesson had been learned the father was overcome with compassion for his son.
The son returned to his father because he knew him to be a good man. And upon his return his father throws a ridiculous celebration – one the son didn’t deserve, and one the older brother couldn’t understand.
GRACE-BASED PARENTING IN THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD FATHER
- The good father allowed his son to break the laws of the Torah
- The good father did not lecture, confront, or punish his son
- The good father was filled with compassion for his son
- The good father welcomed and restored him to a place of honor after the son experienced the natural consequences of his foolish choices
This doesn’t mean that we should never step in and protect our children, nor does it mean that there’s no place for instruction, correction, and discipline! Certainly grace-based parenting requires instruction, correction, and discipline. But we can learn a valuable lesson from the parable of the good father: natural consequences have a God-designed way of teaching life lessons that even the Law cannot teach.
“Natural consequences have a God-designed way of teaching life lessons that even the Law cannot teach.”
The father had every right within the context of Mosaic Law to require respect and honor from his son. He had every right to distance himself from his unclean son when he returned.
But he was filled with compassion.