Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Prodigal Jesus: Happy Father's Day

Today as I was reflecting on Father's Day and the story of the prodigal son, I began to wonder if the parable of the prodigal son is about not only about us sinners, but is also about Jesus.  

A few passages to consider: 

Exodus 4:22: 

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LordIsrael is my firstborn son."

Hosea 11:1-3: 

"When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more they were called; 
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and burning offerings to idols."

A few verses later, God predicts that he will destroy his son, Israel: 

11:6 "A sword will flash in their cities;
   it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans."

And yet a few verses later, God recoils in compassion, promising to re-establish his people (this theme is all throughout the prophets: impending judgement but future restoration): 

 "How can I give you up, Ephraim?

                                 How can I hand you over, Israel?"

Matthew 2:14-15: 
"And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" (citing Hosea)

Matthew 3:17: 
"and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." 

Matthew 27:54: 
"When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Psalm 16: 9-11

"Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

Luke 15:24 (from the parable of the prodigal son): 

"For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."

Matthew 17:22-23:

"When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.”

Luke 24:5: 
"And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?" 

Hebrews 2:11-15

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”[h]
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”[i]
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”[j]
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanityso that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

Rodin's Prodigal Son
In the Old Testament, Israel is portrayed as God's son. The Father calls His son out of Egypt and brings him to a land to possess. Yet the son is wayward, a prodigal son. God promises to punish Israel, his son, yet also that he would not leave them destroyed - he plans to restore His son out of his deep compassion. 

In Matthew's Gospel, especially, Jesus is portrayed as Israel the Son. Matthew explicitly quotes Hosea ('out of Egypt I have called my Son') as a prophecy of the life of Christ. The story of Israel reflects itself in the story of Christ. In this parallelism, the Gospel writers are trying to point out that Christ is the fulfillment of and substitute for, Israel. In Christ, wayward Israel must be destroyed and made alive. Israel's sins must be put on Him and through His death Satan's hold on Israel is destroyed. Although Israel as a political entity was destroyed and restored all once before, this was just a shadow of what was to come: Israel still had to die and be made alive again, to be fully redeemed from sin. This is the mission of Christ and in Him, Israel is made new. The son (Israel, the body of Christ, the communion of Christ) is restored and exalted and blessed forever with new, eternal life. 

This is the beautiful complexity of biblical imagery; confounded by the incarnation. We are the prodigal son, and so is the Godhead incarnate in Christ; his humanity is the flesh of the sons of Abraham, and of all human beings - destroyed and resurrected with and for us. 

All who are in Christ die and are made alive again - the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel to destroy and rebuild her, fulfilled in all who take part in Christ's body and blood. 

Romans 6:5-8: "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self[a]was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him."

The story of the prodigal son is, in many ways, the story of Israel and the story of Christ as the bearer and fulfillment of Israel's story. And it is also each of our stories as sinners who come to God. The story of Israel is a parallel for the story of the whole world: we are all created and beloved by God, all have been wayward, and in Christ we die and rise anew. 

We are children of God, and He is well pleased in us, whom He has called out of Egypt. He has broken the bonds of sin on us and freed us from captivity. He has destroyed our temple and built us a new, everlasting temple (we are a temple, just as Christ was the temple that he predicted would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days). We are whom He has redeemed and called as His own. 

What a beloved, recklessly, loving, Father we have. He is prodigal, reckless, in His love for us: throwing a party for us for having returned home. We were dead, and now we are alive. 

He calls us His son. He becomes one of us and identifies with us. He sends the eternal Son who becomes the son Israel. Son of Adam, son of Abraham. Son of man, son of God. Eternal Son, Israel-son. What a ridiculous set of inconceivable mysteries and absolutely confounding, seemingly contradictory images. 

But we know this: He is a Father worth celebrating today, no matter what experiences you have had with your earthly fathers. We have been adopted into an eternally, recklessly, loving family who does not give up on His wayward children but becomes one of them to lead them through death and out the other side into a glorious new life together. 

Happy Father's Day. 

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