David E. Garland: Received So Generously

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“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’

So 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. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Luke 15:17-21

“The image of returning is tied to repentance throughout Scripture. The immediate context assumes that the tax collectors and sinners gathered around Jesus because they had repented, and their meals together were celebrations of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Luke’s Gospel highlights that the tax collectors in particular were responsive to the preaching and baptism of John that called for repentance. “He came to himself” must mean that the younger son snapped out of it, and marks the beginning of his repentance.

How deep his repentance runs will only become clear from what he does after being received so generously by his father, but the parable concludes with the homecoming party. The parable’s abrupt ending reveals that it is not about a son’s repentance but about a father’s love.”

David E. Garland in Luke (ZECNT 3; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 628.

In my eight day retreat, I am to reflect on death, judgment, and the prodigal son today. In so doing, I am struck with the only right response: repentance. Notice the father’s response to the son’s repentance. The son was “received so generously.”

Personally, I am filled with awe by the compassion of the father. I want God to fill me with such compassion so that I can receive others in their brokenness so generously. And I also realize my own sin and ask God to help me “snap out of it.”

What’s the lesson for each of us? Two times the son exclaimed his unworthiness. It seems that the pathway to receiving compassion in order to dispense it to others is to wake up and abandon our worthiness.

The elder son also exhibits worthiness, which actually distances him from the father. God help us abandon our worthiness and simply learn to receive so that we can be filled with compassion and receive others so generously.