Tuesday, June 16
This coming Sunday we will celebrate fathers and paternal caregivers. The one Biblical Dad who always captures my attention is the unnamed Father of the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11–32).
Many of us are familiar with the Prodigal Son, one of two brothers who demands his inheritance in advance, leaves home, and squanders his fortune to the point of complete poverty. The other son – let’s call him the At Home Son – remains with his father, carries out his family duties, and also partakes of the comforts of the familial home and family resources. (This latter point is an important one, and sometimes offered as one of the teachings of the story. While the At Home Son may feel aggrieved, the fact is that no one took anything out of his pocket and he was no less loved just because his sibling got a party. As the father says, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”)
Nonetheless, the prodigal brother who had been lost and come home again is treated to a special feast. “Kill the fatted calf! Get out Grandma’s good china! Never mind that it’s not even dishwasher proof!” Understandably, the At Home Brother is a little miffed and refuses to come to the party.
At some point in our lives, those of us familiar with this parable have probably positioned ourselves as the prodigal son, relieved and grateful to be received into good graces again, not just without judgement, but even with glad celebration. Others of us have been able to put our feet in the saintly shoes of the At Home Son, dutiful and seemingly uncelebrated, struggling to be able to rejoice in someone else’s limelight and happy ending (and as a result potentially missing out on one heck of a party).
But today, I am thinking about the Father in this tale. I think all of us can agree that that this Biblical father is himself one Prodigal Pop. He is crazily lavish … giving away half his fortune prematurely, dashing across the field in full sight of the hired help, and flinging his arms around his filthy wastrel son without even requiring an apology, and then conspicuously robing and ringing his son and setting a fancy banquet out for him. I mean, really! There was even music and dancing … an entire reception thrown together in an afternoon! This is a father whose love is undiminished, whose forgiveness is unrestrained, whose joy is overflowing. As one of my work colleagues famously remarked in a weekly chapel discussion, “that is one crazy father. That is crazy love.”
Now, by some trick of an earworm, the phrase “crazy love” always makes me think of … not Van Morrison’s hit single “Crazy Love” (as you might expect), but rather his 1989 hit, “Have I Told You Lately” (the song covered and popularized by Rob Stewart). My mind always goes to these particular lyrics:
[you] fill my heart with gladness,
Take away my sadness,
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do.
I imagine this is what the prodigal son must have been thinking as he collapsed into his father’s arms without even having to explain his mistakes and failures. I believe it’s what the father must have felt, finding that his sons were home with him …. and not just his prodigal boy who was very obviously lost and thinking he must come back as a slave, but also his first born who stayed home and had also lost himself in more subtle ways by considering himself as a servant in his own family.
Van Morrison’s song is understood as a romantic ballad, but it’s not hard to see that it was originally written as a prayer. Consider the bridge:
There’s a love that’s divine
And it’s yours and it’s mine
Like the sun.
At the end of the day
We should give thanks and pray to the One.
My colleague who identified the prodigal Father’s ‘crazy love’ concluded her thought with recognition that thankfully we all have an insanely generous Father. That Father – the “One” in the song lyric — is the ultimate wildly forgiving and joyful parent who is always ready to welcome and celebrate each of us, no matter how distant we get or how often we stray and make our way back again. Like the Sun, this is the Father-God who is constant, but who also is radical in showing His love and mercy. Thanks and praise to the One!
We praise you that, despite all our weakness and disobedience, you view us not as subjects,or as servants, but as children. And we rejoice that you want us to see you not as some deity remote in splendour, nor as a jealous God demanding our homage, but as a father, watching over us with infinite care and tenderness. For the wonder of your love, we praise you.
Teach us that however far we stray from you, however much we may reject your love or ignore your guidance, still you go on reaching out, longing to draw us close once more. For the wonder of your love, we praise you.
– Excerpted from a prayer by Nick Fawcett,
and posted on the Mother’s Union website.