“But while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20b).”
Take a deep breath and let these words settle deep into your heart: “the father saw (the returning prodigal son) and was filled with compassion for him.” This parable offers an extraordinary window into the heart of God, and from what we see here we might describe the living God as The Compassionate One. This whole scene depicting the father’s response to his son’s return is simply breathtaking. He sees, he is filled with compassion, he runs to his son, adorns him with the best robe and a ring; he calls for the fattened calf and a celebration… Really, a renaming of this astonishing parable would be appropriate. The central character in the story is not the prodigal son, but the father. Perhaps we should name it “The Parable of the Compassionate Father.” As we have seen, this title would aptly describe his response to his older son as well.
Very few things will impact us as deeply as our vision of who God is. If our ‘god’ is vindictive, we will likely be vindictive. If our ‘god’ is hateful, we will likely be hateful. (Just look at what religious terrorists, including ‘Christian’ terrorists, have done throughout the centuries.) But if God is like the father in this parable, if God is made known in Jesus, as we believe, that will change everything.
We make note once again that we are meditating on this parable during the Lenten season. How appropriate that again and again we hear this phrase from the writers of the four Gospels, “and Jesus, filled with compassion…” How fitting that the one who told this story is the one who is on the way to the cross, where he will carry in his body the compassion of God the father for the entire world. Open your heart to the compassion of God, surrender to it even now. As you do, you may be sure that you are now home.