My Tierra Nueva colleague, Danielle, and I were at the women’s jail pod on Father’s Day. Once gathered around the circular metal table for the Bible study, we discovered that most of women had experienced feelings of sadness, regret and disappointment when thinking about their fathers that day.
We prayed together and then turned to Luke 15, which begins with the tax collectors and sinners, coming near to Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and scribes were disgusted by the attention Jesus was giving to these despised outcasts and started to grumble, saying: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded by telling them three parables: the first about a lost sheep, the second about a lost coin, and the third about a lost son. In each story Jesus describes what was lost to be of great value, worthy of especial effort in being sought after—and joyfully celebrated with friends and neighbors once found.
“Which one of you wouldn’t leave 99 of your flock to look for one sheep which wandered away or look diligently for one precious coin until it is found?” Jesus asked.
All of us can relate to the joy of recovering a valuable animal or lost money, so Jesus has our attention. But a prodigal (wasteful) son? What is it about this guy who not only dishonors his father by demanding an early inheritance and but then wastes it all on prostitutes and partying? More importantly, what is it about this father who looks co-dependant in granting his son’s audacious request? Does God’s love have no limits?
The women in the bible study recount times when they “wasted” their bodies, resources and opportunities, damaging relationships, burning bridges and suffering devastating consequences on all levels. What earthly parent would warmly welcome such a son or daughter back in this state?
The response of the father to the wasteful son returning home in shame, asking to be treated as a hired servant is truly astonishing. Seeing his son approaching from a long way off “he felt compassion for him, and ran and hugged him and kissed him.” He didn’t even let the son finish the speech he had prepared about his unworthiness to remain a son. Instead the father prepared a lavish party to celebrate his son’s return and invited his friends and neighbors to come share his happiness.
The response of Jesus to the religious leaders and to all who take offense at the Father’s embrace of such “sinners” demonstrates the unfathomable depth of his love and forgiveness: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance.” What parent would go to this extent to love a kid who wasted everything? Only our Heavenly Father. And this is the Good News.
The women and Danielle and I shared a moment of wonder and amazement at the crazy love of our Heavenly Father, which was starting to sink into our wounded and needy hearts. We marveled together about what this could mean. Could Jesus be telling us that God is this good? Better than anyone we could ever know or imagine? Yes! Even when we leave our Heavenly Father, we can return to him and expect to be embraced and celebrated regardless of how we have messed up.
At Tierra Nueva we are inspired to embody this radical love and welcome in all our encounters and gatherings, inside and outside the jail.