Scripture - Luke 15:2 - But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Quote – Hans Urs von Balthasar - If the prodigal son had not believed that the father's love was already waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home - even if his father's love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of. The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be, and really is, there for him; he is not the one who has to bring himself into line with God; God has always already seen in him, the loveless sinner, a beloved child and has looked upon him and conferred dignity upon him in the light of this love.”
Ed Cole is noted for commenting upon the story of the Prodigal Son, The pattern of the prodigal is: rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration. I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Cole. I would suggest that the pattern is rebellion, ruin, reconciliation, repentance, restoration. It's a playful disagreement. But l would suggest there is something to be gained from pondering the difference between repentance before reconciliation and repentance as a result of reconciliation.
Let's look at the parable of the prodigal son in detail. While living in ruin the younger son who has squandered his wealth and now lives in poverty and shame decides to return home to beg for mercy. And it is true that in his heart and mind he had decided to ask forgiveness for shaming his father. In a sense he repents and this would seem to support Mr. Cole's argument. But look closely at how the son's plans are superseded by his father's actions. He journeys home, but we find out that his father has been keeping watch for him to return and before the prodigal has a chance not only to offer his confession, but even gets to the house, the father runs to greet him with an embrace and a kiss. Before the father hears the confession (the repentance) he is filled with compassion and welcomes his son home. The reconciliation happens before the son's repentance. This reading is supported by the opening of this entire story. The Pharisees are offended by the fact that Jesus 'welcomes' sinners. In greek the word is prosdechomai and means 'accept.' Jesus accepts the sinners.
Our quote for the day highlights the pre-eminence of reconciliation leading to repentance. Balthasar writes, ' The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be, and really is, there for him; he is not the one who has to bring himself into line with God.' Balthasar reminds us that Jesus is not teaching us pattern or a process, but revealing the truth that we are the beneficiaries of God's gracious love, which does not wait for us to be deserving. Instead it reaches out to make us deserving. One of the great theologians of the mid 20th century summarized this in a sermon entitled, 'Accept that you are accepted.' Paul would summarize this in Romans 3 by saying 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace.' And Paul's point is not to manipulate us with guilt and shame, but instead to undermine the spiritual and theological lies that kept various ethnic and socio-economic groups from being truly reconciled in the early church. None of them were superior. All were loved by God because of God's graciousness, not because of anything they had done to earn that love.
Study – Romans 5:1-10
Prayer – Remind us Lord today, that we are loved just as we are, where we are. That you delight in us fully, our failures and successes, our faults and our virtues, our past and our potential. Bring us hope and peace through knowing that your love is not a reward for good behavior, but a gift freely given. And then, let us grow and change, serve and work as a response to your great love for us.