Rabbi’s Reflections – Saturday, August 6, 2022
Growing in Love for God 28
by David Harwood
There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that returns to Him. It is God, Himself, who calls for the fellowship of joy. “Rejoice with me” (Luke 15:7,19) might well be capitalized. It is God who says, “Rejoice with Me!” Like the dad of the barely repentant wastrel, He calls for a party.
When one reads the rehearsal of the destitute son’s confession it is achingly lacking any semblance of conviction or remorse. All that son knew was that his father was generous and that perhaps he could get out of the situation he’d gotten himself into. This is the repentance of the, “I’m sorry I was caught.”
Seeing that, did the father turn him away? Did he say, “Come back when you’re sorry for the grief and shame you caused.”? You know the answer. The father called for a feast. This is an unexpected hue that comes through the prism of this parable. It is the opposite of the rigor of John the Immerser’s proclamation:
Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8 TLV)
The Prodigal’s father’s unrighteous response rankles the religious soul. Yet, there it is. In fact, the son did not even complete the return trip to offer his manipulative, non-substantive façade of repentance: “If I say I’m sorry, maybe I’ll get a job and some decent food.” His rehearsed words were right. His motives were less than stellar.
“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food overflowing, but here I am dying of hunger!
18I’ll get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your presence. (Luke 15:17–18 TLV)
The father called for a party because of this? Unbelievable. Yet, we’re asked to believe. The Messiah instructed us that this is what our Father is like. Many are they who returned to God because of the threat of eternal consequences. The number who have come to God upon the basis of their desire that their lives would improve, or that they would be rescued from their mistakes, are legion. Their contrition was lacking, yet God’s mercy abides. This mercy is akin to the Prodigal’s dad’s exorbitant, above and beyond all they could ask or imagine, mercy.
No offense intended, but have we repented perfectly? Have we resolutely followed through on all our intentions to walk in holiness? There are numerous questions I might pose that could possibly provoke a conscience prone to self-condemnation.
Breaking News: We are not in charge of justifying, or condemning, ourselves. Our justification is in the hands of the God who is portrayed in this Parable of Parables as overjoyed at our most meager effort to return to Him. How happy is He? For Him, it’s time to celebrate.
I wonder whether the returning son was embarrassed. (I might have been…)
I wonder whether or not there was gossip at the gathering. (I might have been a gossiper…)
There may have been quite a few who doubted the sincerity of the “sorry I was caught” son. (I tend towards questioning other people’s motives…)
No matter. What was important was the father’s response to his child’s apparent need. (I hope I would have been caught up in the celebration.)
Many are convinced that the father in this parable lost status as he too easily restored his humiliated failure of a son. Maybe. This might be true. Let’s suppose it is. If it is something that hearers of this parable felt, then take a second look at what Yeshua was saying about God. He was saying that God did not care about His reputation.
The Messiah was bringing good news to those who doubted that they could be accepted by the God before Whom they would one day stand on the Day of Judgment. Would their imperfect penitence and incomplete obedience in motive and action be sufficient?
An awakened conscience might thunder, “No!” The enlightened heart looks towards the Father who called for the party.
Look at this doxology:
Now to the One who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, (Jude 24 TLV)
God preserves us. He shall cause us to be received on that Day. Because of Him who causes us to be beyond reproach, unblemished, we will stand before the outshining of His goodness with great joy.
“Great joy,” that’s party language.
What a wonderful God.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sat 06-Aug-2022 9th of Av, 5782 Parashat Devarim Shabbat Chazon
De 3:15-22 Isa 1:1-27 Mt 3:1-12