Ganked from an e-mail conversation with a friend who is new to the faith. We were chatting, and she expressed great concern that she had irrevocably messed up any chance she had of having a relationship with God. This is what I sent her:
Here's the aforementioned parable. It comes from the gospel of Luke, chapter fifteen, verses eleven through thirty-two. Afterwards, I've included some notes on the text.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[a]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Most of this parable is pretty self-explanatory. The lost son represents someone who has turned against their Christian upbringing and wasted all the good things given by his father, his father represents God, and his older brother represents someone who has never strayed far from their Christian upbringing.
Note that this parable was spoken to Jews, and that the thought of feeding pigs (which were forbidden under Jewish law) would have been bad enough, not to mention being so hungry that the guy wanted to eat the pigs' food. Dude was pretty well in a shitty situation, and it was all because of his own poor decisions.
In desperation, he decides to go back to his father (i.e.- God) and beg to be a lowly servant in his household. But before he even gets anywhere near home, the father (God) sees the boy coming back to him and knows that he's sorry for what he's done, so he RUNS to greet the boy, showering love and affection on him.
Now, understand that the father in this story is a wealthy landowner; a man of great prestige and dignity. But he considers his lofty position NOTHING when compared to his joy at seeing his son again. So it is with God. As high above the Earth and all of our lowly ways God is, he comes running towards us (in the form of Jesus) and wraps us in his arms, showering us with love and affection. No matter WHAT we've done, he forgives it all and welcomes us back with great joy.
The older brother represents judgmental Christians (and I'm sad to say that there are many of them out there) who look down on sinners and don't think that God should have anything to do with them. "What? This girl turned to Wicca? And SATANISM? You've got to be kidding me! To hell with her! She's not worth God's time!" these people might say.
Well, you see the father's reaction in the parable, and of course God's reaction is the same. "Get over yourself. My daughter has come home. I am overjoyed, and now all of Heaven is going to rejoice with me!!!"
So Friend*, you don't have to be afraid that God is going to hold your past against you. God relishes in forgiveness. He takes his greatest delight in mercy and kindness. Gospel is the Greek word for "Good News", and that is the good news: All the stories people have fed you about God looking for a reason to bust your ass are lies. He loves you, and he's made a way for you to be with him forever.
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