Tag Archives: Prodigal Son


Return, O faithless children,
    I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you;

     for you are the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah 3:22 (NRSVCE)

I recall an episode with one of our daughters a number of years ago. The details of the episode are irrelevant. Our daughter had placed a considerable amount of relational distance between herself and me. She made some choices that she assumed would not make me very happy, and she basically hid from me for a period of time.

When things were eventually revealed I was, admittedly, upset. My anger, however, was not so much with the choices she feared would upset me as it was with the fact that she felt she must hide and distance herself from me.

“When have we ever been unable to talk things out?”
“When have I ever been unreasonable?”
“When have I ever demanded my own way of you?”
“When have I not allowed you to make your own choices?”
“What must you think of me that you can’t be honest with me?”
“Do you honestly think I would reject you?”
“Do you not realize how much I love you?”
“Do you honestly think my love for you is so conditional?”

These are the questions that plagued me. The injury I felt ultimately had less to do with the choices she had made, for they affected me very little. The injury I felt had more to do with the relational choices   between her and me. They affected me deeply. I love her so much.

Eventually, we talked. We reasoned. There were injuries and misunderstandings that lay underneath the surface. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect child. We slogged through the hard stuff. We forgave. We reconciled. We restored. We learned valuable lessons about ourselves and each other in the process. We let go of what was behind and pressed forward. Old things pass away.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is about a heavenly father’s frustration with wayward Israel and wayward Judah. Anger and frustration are present, but ultimately there is simply a call to return, to come home, to be reconciled, and for relationship to be restored.

“Return” is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story. Jesus took it to a new level in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus would experience the theme interpersonally in Peter’s denial and ultimate restoration on the shores of Galilee. It is a human story and a Spirit story. We all experience it in various forms both relationally and spiritually in our own respective journeys.

This morning in the quiet I am thinking about the theme of “return” in my own multi-layered experiences across 50-plus years. I’m thinking about my own wayward actions as a son of my parents. I’m thinking about my experiences as a father. I’m thinking about my own prodigal stretches in life when I walked in the shoes of my own daughter; When I made the same mistaken projections and misguided choices.

It’s easy to read God’s Message and to feel the weight of a Father’s frustration so acutely as to miss the heart and the hurt of a loving parent aching for His child to return. Jesus came to recalibrate our thinking and to reconcile us to God…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Return. The Father is waiting.

Lesson of the Prophetic Prodigal

In that day people will look to their Maker
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 17:7 (NIV)

Isaiah is taking a prophetic tour of the region of his day. In previous days we’ve been to Moab and Aram. The tour of doom continues today to the kingdoms of Syria, and even to Israel’s northern kingdom.

The Kingdom of Israel split during the time of David’s grandson (Solomon’s son). The southern Kingdom of Judah (David’s tribe) along with the tribe of Benjamin, continued to make Jerusalem its capital city, and continued to put descendants of the line of David on the royal throne. Isaiah was a prophet of Judah. With Solomon’s temple a prominent fixture in Judah, the worship of God was more likely to be central to the lives of citizens there.

The northern kingdom was made up of the other ten of Israel’s tribes. There were different capital cities, but in the days of Isaiah it was in Samaria. The monarchy in Israel was a political free-for-all, and religion was seemingly a free-for-all as well. While Judah was more apt to be faithful to God and the worship of God at Solomon’s temple, the tribes of the northern kingdom were more given to worship of Canaanite deities.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah’s apocalyptic, regional prophecies include their northern kin, though the coming doom does not mean total destruction for Israel. Isaiah speaks of a gleaning (harvest) in which some fruit remains. Isaiah’s message predicted the regional invasion of the Assyrians, in which the Assyrians would take many captive and leave a few behind. This was a common practice of siege warfare in that day.

From a spiritual perspective, the tribes of Israel and Judah are bit like Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. While Jesus’ parable was not intended as a political allegory, the the metaphor of the parable resonates. Judah the more dutiful older son and Israel the rebellious younger son. God has a pattern of allowing His children freedom of will to accept or reject His ways, and equally allowing his children to experience the painful fruits of their own actions and decisions.

This morning I am thinking about how easy it is as parents to want to protect our children from themselves. When we control all behavior, control all exposure to the world, and protect children from all harm they are more likely to be safe. They are also less likely to be wise. It is only in the distant country, and in the painful consequences of his own actions, that the prodigal realizes his folly and makes a choice to return home.

Isaiah’s prophecy of Israel pre-figures the lesson of the parable. Israel will suffer the devastation of an Assyrian siege, its best and brightest will be taken into captivity, but the painful lesson will turn the hearts of the prodigal back to their spiritual Father.

(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son

Chip off the ol' block.
Chip off the ol’ block.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)

A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.

“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. My brother and I have even joked about it. “I may have the Vander Well nose,” he said to me this past year, “but at least I didn’t get the receding hairline and the bad hearing.” I think he feels he got the better end of the deal.

It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not at the similarities, but at the contrast between David and his rebellious, prodigal son Absalom:

  • As a young man David was the anointed king, but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
  • David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom the respect and gentleness his son, a prince. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
  • David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated out of anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.

I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.

As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they’ve been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.

This morning I am thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, lived on opposite sides of that line.

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