One of the most compelling and beautiful stories in the Bible is the story of The Prodigal Son.
This parable that Jesus told is found in Luke 15:11-31. Many who read this moving account focus on the story of the son but overlook the fact that this was also a story of the father.
The parable opens with this young man going to his father demanding his share of the inheritance. We tend to miss the gravity of this situation. In their culture, the inheritance of the father was divided between his children after his death. The son was basically telling his father, “I wish you were dead!” How such an insult must have hurt his father! The father relents and gives in and lets him go.
The foolish young man travels to a faraway country, far from his father, and goes on to ruin his life, squandering his wealth in wild, reckless living. Things go from bad to worse when a devastating famine hits. He is left with nothing and ends up working at a pig-sty, and at his lowest point, he’s eyeing the pigs’ food to fill his stomach. That’s when he comes to his senses and remembers his father.
His father, meanwhile, has not stopped loving his son. He has been waiting and watching daily in the hope that his son will come home someday. Can you just imagine him craning his neck, looking in the distance, longing that one day he would see the figure of his son returning?
One of the reasons Jesus tells this parable is to show us the HEART of the Father. This father in the story is a picture of God Himself. It shows God’s unconditional love for his children. Even when, we, His children, go astray foolishly, He does not stop loving us. He waits for us to repent and return to Him. His relationship with His children does not change. We are still His children.
My question to Muslims is this. Does this father reflect Allah’s heart? First of all, Allah does not consider you his children. You are slaves to a slavemaster. A slavemaster is interested only in what the slave can do to serve him. If you happen to run away, do you think Allah would wait for you to return? He has many other slaves to take your place and to do his bidding. One runaway slave means nothing. He will probably put a bounty on your head. Ask yourself. What happens to apostates? They are disowned and excommunicated and hounded for punishment. The punishment is death.
What a far cry from the father in this story!
In this parable, the young man finally comes to his senses and decides to make his way back to his father in repentance. He is ashamed and broken. He even rehearses a speech for his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your servants.” He didn’t think he was deserving of the love of his father anymore. Obviously he never even really knew his father or the depth of his love. He never understood the unconditional love of his father.
His father, not only welcomed him back with extravagant joy but the parable paints an incredibly emotional scene of the reunion.
“But while he was still in the distance, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
Think about it. This son must have been in tattered rags, covered in dirt and pig slop, sweaty and stinking. The father didn’t care about all that. He ran to him and hugged him and kissed him, overjoyed that his son had finally returned. Can you imagine this as Allah’s reaction? I don’t think so. He would demand wudhu. “Get yourself cleaned up, man! How dare you approach Allah without the prescribed ritual cleansing?”
The Father’s heart is different. All your dirt and your stink does not faze him or embarrass him one bit. The son was willing to accept whatever punishment the father would mete out including being disowned as a son. He was willing to be just another slave.
Forget about it!
The father wasn’t even thinking about punishment. The son was completely and fully forgiven. Didn’t the young man have to pay back his father for what he had lost and squandered? Maybe by working it off? By doing good deeds perhaps? No, the father himself absorbed the loss.
The father orders his servants to bring to his son the best robe to cover his nakedness, a pair of sandals for his feet, and a ring for his finger. It was an immediate demonstration of the father’s complete approval, love, and mercy as well as protection. The son was content to just be a servant. The gifts distinguished his son from the servants. Although from reading the passage it might seem like the father was not listening to the son’s plea to become a servant, the gifts showed that he was still a son to his father, not a servant.
Interestingly, each of the gifts had special significance.
The robe signified the special affection and love of the father. (Just like how Jacob showed special affection for Joseph with the gift of the coat.)
The ring symbolized authority and honor.
In those days, servants and slaves wore no sandals. The young man returned home bare-foot and with blisters, ready to be a servant. The sandals showed he was a son and not a servant.
How incredible to think that God is such a wonderful and loving Father willing to welcome us back to Him, no matter how far we have strayed from Him. You can come back to the Father too.
Allow Him to embrace you intimately and welcome you home as a child of God.