3 Jul 2017
As is the case with many things more hypothetical than factual, fictitious narratives, illustrations or familiar parallels are given to convey confidence in the concept. As it turns out, Christians have long been familiar with the concept of grace. It is, in fact, the hallmark icon of the Christian tradition. Treading back to the spiritual foundation of the church, the crucifixion story stands as the liberating cliff of the character of God. The story of the sacrifice of God for the souls of men. What a beautiful and unprecedented gift to behold.
But wait. The difficulty with this situation is our unfamiliarity with it. John Locke once said things are only as valuable as the value men attribute to it. If the generationally-deep influence of sin had so entrenched mankind into the obscurity from our Creator and Father, benevolent care wouldn’t be known even if it were extremely rich. Certain theological circles would insert here that God imputes this valuation onto the gift, in that through God’s help, we can receive it. But how can a gift be personally received and appreciated if it is never actually comprehensible?
The inspiration for this post actually came from a podcast discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son. It occurred to me in the moment that this was (it would later be discovered) a picture that was contextually fictitious to the culture it was being given to. First off, the younger son had asked for his portion of His Jewish father’s estate. This (as the podcast’s vocalist demystified) was a the cultural equivalent of a slap in the face. The father would have had to sell off part of his land, flocks, precious possessions that would have left the household in disarray for months, years maybe? Nonetheless, the father, without hesitation, retrieves his son’s portion for him. The biblical narrative suggests no resistance from the father either.
Pausing here, how realistic is this? What father would willing lacerate his household for the sake of his adolescent child? Furthermore, what family would not insist on wise council for the impatient child. Perhaps less council would be demanded in the event of a secretive runaway strategy, but this younger son as asked his Jewish father to let him “run wild with his portion”. Some would even claim the father’s actions (or lack-thereof) here were unwise. Regardless, the son departs on his “self-discovery” journey. After the season of pleasure, the prodigal’s portion runs out, and he finds himself working among pigs. The Jewish culture despised pigs, or swine. They were un-split hooved abominations. Here the son is working among them (and even desiring to eat the swine’s daily slop), all the while knowing he could return home.
Realistically, the son would have known that returning to his father at this point to be close to a non-option. The Jew’s were stubborn at times, and a wayward child (or promiscuous wife) was permission enough to consider them forfeit. The father had a right to disacknowledge his lost son. As we read this parable from a post-salvific perspective though, we anticipate something from the father that shouldn’t have been anticipated. Jesus was telling this story to the Jewish elite; Pharisees and Sadducees. They would have optioned for the Mosaic law option. But Jesus was (and is) the picture of a new way and form. He went with the narrative to describe a father who not only welcomed his son back without any reservations – he even initiates a feast. For Christians, this is the expected picture of the God of Grace. But the Jews didn’t understand this concept.
The message of Grace is a difficult thing to grasp for some, as trust is easily broken, and not so easily mended. But the ironic thing is Jesus tells many parables that were not only fictional, but unrealistic to the culture. Jesus seemed to be telling the story of a pre-sin culture. He made the case for what we know as grace, but He traversed beyond that gateway into the family of unrestrained trust. Home isn’t a physical place; it’s a relational proximity. The father depicted in this story wasn’t someone that would have been found in that age; Jesus was talking about His Father, about our original family…