Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)
“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”
By ‘Debo Onabanjo
Growing up as a kid, it was always very important to me to please my parents, but I sometimes let them down by doing stuff that went against their expectations. While my strict Christian parents always held me accountable, there was never a time that they stopped loving me or told me that I was no longer worthy to be their son.
As a parent of three young boys, my wife and I take our responsibility to train and nurture our children in the ways of the Lord very seriously. When they drop the ball or fail to meet the expectations set for them, they are held accountable. But there is absolutely nothing they can do to no longer be worthy to be called our sons!
In the Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son in Luke 15, Jesus opens a beautiful window into the heart of a loving father who will never stop loving us. After squandering his inheritance on wild living, the younger of two sons in the story became desperate. After weighing all his options, the remorseful younger son decided to go back home to his father with a prepared apology and request: “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”’ (Luke 15:18-19.) Some folks argue that it was presumptuous on the part of this rebellious son to think that the father would even consider taking him back as a hired servant.
But as he made his way back home, the father shocked him by not only welcoming him back but also throwing a party to celebrate his safe return. The prodigal son never expected to be received by his father with so much love and fanfare. Even though the decision of the father to celebrate the return of the younger son infuriated the older son, the father encouraged the older son to join in the celebration because of his wayward brother’s repentance.
The father in the story truly represents the Father in heaven. We should always rejoice when sinners come back home.
Truth be told, there are times church folks believe that those who have no relationship with Jesus are unworthy and should not be welcomed back into the fold. Like the older son, as believers, we can sometimes fail to recognize that when it comes to the gift of salvation and eternal life, no one has the right to boast or brag because our salvation from beginning to end is all a work of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The stench of sin can make us all feel unworthy, but the good news is that we can all come to the throne of grace just as we are. Our Father in heaven does not see us the way the world sees us.
Like the younger son, none of us is worthy to be called a son (or a daughter) of our heavenly Father based on what we have done. As Paul tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.) Because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, all those who feel unworthy because of sin have been made right because of the one who is worthy.
Since Jesus the Lamb has prevailed and opened the scroll that no one in heaven or earth or under the earth was able to open, we do not have to be ashamed of our unworthiness (Revelation 5:1-5). Jesus through his atoning work has turned unworthy prodigals into co-heirs, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.
The fattened calf is waiting to be slaughtered. Why are we slow going home?
Loving God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to die to make unworthy prodigals worthy sons and daughters. Help us to share this good news of redemption with others still outside the fold. It is in the name of Jesus that we do pray. Amen.