The Father delights in us
Our children want to know we are delighted with them
The examples of fatherhood in the Prodigal Son parable are built off two rarities found in men today. First, there’s wealth. An estate handed off in inheritance so early is shocking. Second, the loving sacrifice of the son’s father, joyfully and without anger, is remarkable. Most men don’t reach that level of kindness until later in life.
The man described by Luke as willing to split the shares of his estate so one of his two sons can head off on an adventure doesn’t exist today. The accepted timeline for an inheritance comes upon the death of both parents. More to the point, men seldom make financial decisions without their wives.
Image by Amber Clay
Estates don’t get divided until both folks are old, no longer capable, or dead. In most cases in our American culture, children have built their own lives, and what’s left of their parents’ funds has likely disappeared, going to nursing homes and medical expenses. The retirement funds gathered into nest eggs are largely to sustain the elderly and only get passed on to the children when parents’ days are done. The children get what’s left.
That’s not the whole story of the Prodigal Son tale for the modern family. This parable affects us deeper than children's inheritance and the equity of funds and estates. Abundance and nurturing vary in each family group, but at the root of every parent’s plans for their family, we strive to ensure our children are well cared for now. Later is up to them.
The father in this parable expresses an eagerness and willingness to be present and loving throughout their whole lives. That’s the teaching for fathers in today’s world. This father delights in his sons. Mothers and fathers know about this extra feature of parenting. Our children need to know they are loved beyond duty. Our children want to know we are delighted with them.
Parents help with college expenses or even fund those years entirely. I’ve known well-heeled friends who’ve paid for graduate school. Our investments in education, sports, and after-school skill sets take up quite a bit of a family’s income. Every family differs in this. The primary effort is to send off our children capable of making their living and growing their own families.
The infrastructure of every family I know may have similar patterns of work, play, prayer, and raising children. Those patterns, though, range wildly in who makes money, who cooks, and even who drives. Yet, this old story of the man and his estate affects everybody similarly. He’s joyful with his sons.
The Prodigal Son story lives in the psyche of every parent who has experienced train wreck scenarios in their children’s failures at making it in the world. That’s a lot of us. Parents who would leave their recalcitrant, repentant children out in the cold are statistically a rarity today. Many parents have hard hearts and even abandon their children. Thankfully, that’s not the norm. A parent yearning for their children want the child to know their parents are overjoyed.
We all know about the folks who suffer terribly at the wayward ways of a son or daughter. They will willingly spend whatever it takes to get a child back on the right path. The Prodigal Son story has influenced parents across the spectrum of nations. It’s not the estate, the money, land, and assets that the Prodigal Son story has taught us. The unconditional love of our children is the teaching. We are moved to love both the rebellious and the scrupulous, fairness-bent child. No child should be left outside the nurturing circle.
Much is said about how the father of these two sons. The mother is not mentioned. I believe Jesus purposely told this story for the men. God knows our male problem. The parable moves men to match the nurturing ways of mothers who naturally reach out to their children. When men gather their children in their arms, the family mirrors God’s love. Women aren’t left out of this story. They aren’t drastically different from men and can easily place themselves into the teaching. But it’s telling that men need to be the prime audience of this message.
The Prodigal storyline responds to welcoming sinners and eating with them, but the response of Jesus’ parables goes beyond the one issue, the one problem that people deal with. He has an incomparable way of driving a story home in practically every age, every home, and every person.
Our children will sin; we must bend into them with more than just forgiveness. The delight God has in us becomes clear to our children when we delight in them.