Wineskins Archive

February 4, 2014

What’s So Special About God’s Love? (Jul-Aug 1998)

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by Bill Love
July – August, 1998

33Jesus attracted losers like some people collect stray dogs and cats. He ate with people you and I would not be caught dead with. When the best people in town asked why he associated with street people he told the story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus pointed the parable at superior older brother types. But it also said something about God’s love for prodigals. Have you ever wondered what is so special about God’s love? Wouldn’t any father treat his prodigal the same way?

Let me tell you Ted’s story and you can decide for yourself. It’s a story that could happen, does happen somewhere every year.

Ted couldn’t wait to leave home and enroll at the university. He would finally escape his older brother’s shadow. Don was a hard act to follow; perfect in every way. He was Mr. Everything in high school; made straight A’s, was the president of five clubs, all-district quarterback and, naturally, very popular with all the women on campus. Don had gone on to college and law school, following in ol’ dad’s footsteps. Not that Ted was a zero. He made good enough grades, played on the football team, was active in several clubs and dated some.

But now he could go to a university where no one had ever heard of big brother Don. The first year he had a lot of fun and his grades were poor. His dad harped on his poor performance all the next summer. Ted came back to school determined to do better and his grades did improve. It was an uneventful second year. He made friends, had a few wild weekends at the frat house and the hangovers to prove it.

It was in his junior year that something happened to Ted. For no apparent reason he suddenly had an urge to do something big, something different, to take a different direction. He want to the dean’s office and changed his major from pre-law to drama. It felt good to strike out on his own.

The same week he received an application for a Visa card. he filled it out and sent it in. Within a month he also applied for MasterCard and American Express. Ted felt independent, in control, adult! No sooner than he received the cards than he maxed them out: a new stereo, a computer and software and new clothes. His parents knew nothing about any of this, In just a month or so he owed several thousand dollars. When “Past Due” notices appeared in his mail box he feared the banks might contact his dad. He took a part-time job at McDonald’s sold some books, and even some plasma. he was beginning to see that he could never pay the cards off fast enough.

Ted went to a weekend party to forget his problems. He drank too much, did a little pot and was tempted to try cocaine for the first time. When he confided in a friend about his financial problems he received advice: “There’s a way you could pay those cards off in less than a month. You’re smart. There’s nothing to it. The real action is not sniffing this stuff, it’s selling.” Ted said he wasn’t interested, that his dad would kill him if he got caught.

The Water Wont Take HimThe next day he got a call from the bank. The woman said he had to make a payment in the next ten days or they would contact his father. Ted called his friend and asked how to start dealing drugs.

His friend was right. Ted was successful, business was brisk, there was nothing to it. In a few weeks he paid off thee cards and had plenty of cash left to buy the restored red Mustang he had lusted for. Ted was riding high, had more friends than he could count, partied every night. Many women on campus were eager to date him.

Then one night at two in the morning the phone range on his dad’s bedside table. “We’re sorry to bother you, sir. This is the Dallas Police. We have your son here. He was arrested for possession of illegal drugs with intent to sell. We will release him on bond of $5,000 pending a trial. Do you want to make bail?”

Ted’s dad wired the money. The phone rang in Ted’s apartment at 7:30 the next morning. It was the Dean of Men. “Ted, we don’t allow drug use on campus, much less dealing. You are no longer a student here. If you wish you may apply next year. We are making no promises. You need to get your life together, young man.”

Within the hour Ted had packed his things, filled the car with gas and was on the road for the five hundred mile trip home. He stopped by the newsstand to see if the paper reported his bust. It did, in detail, with his picture. As he drove down the Interstate, Ted didn’t turn on the radio; he didn’t feel like it. As the hours went by he had plenty of time to think. “I’ll just have to come clean, tell the whole story and take what comes … I deserve this … What a fool to think I could get away with it … What will Dad say? … Will he even let me in the door or boot me out without a word? … Who could blame him?”

It was dark when Ted turned the corner onto the street where he lived. Cars were parked up and down the street in front of the house. Getting out of his card he could hear music and see red, white and blue balloons through the window. What was going on? On the way up the walk he met his aunt Betty. “It’s a party for Don. He’s graduating from law school. And, it’s his birthday. You see, good things happen when a young man is responsible, works hard and keeps his nose clean!”

Ted went around the house to sneak up the back stairs. “Of course it’s a celebration for Don!” he thought. “What else? Big surprise!” His dad came into the room. “You all right, Ted?” “Yeah, Dad. I’m sorry. I really am sorry for messing up, for costing you all that money. I know I really blew it this time. Do you want me to leave? Could I just stay until I get at job and my own apartment.”

“We’ll talk about it later. Don’t mind telling you I’m very disappointed. You’ve dragged the family name through the mud! Do you realize that you could get jailtime! With this on your record you may have blown your own future! What were you thinking? … I’m not sure I can trust you again. It’ll take some time … Look, you can stay up here if you want to, but I think you should at least come downstairs to wish Dona a happy birthday and congratulate him on his graduation. That would be the decent thing.”

That’s Ted’s story. Now back to our original question: What is so special about God’s love? Look at the human love in this story. Ted’s dad was caring but firm, accepting without approving. Without minimizing Ted’s failure, he allowed for the possibility of negotiating a restoration. He made it clear that Ted would have to earn the trust and respect he had squandered so thoughtlessly. What more could his dad have done? We can understand Ted’s dad and the way he dealt with his son. It was responsible love.

But, by the same measure, the prodigal’s father is hard to figure. He ran out to meet his wayward son, threw his arms around his neck and said: “Put the best robe on him, a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. Kill the fatted calf and prepare a feast! Let’s celebrate! For this sone of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” He gave the party for the prodigal, not for the older brother who had stayed at home and tended to business! (Looking at it this way, the older brother had a point.)

How do you explain the prodigal’s father? That was just Jesus’ point. We can’t understand our heavenly Father’s love. When the Pharisees asked by Jesus ate with sinners he could have answered, “Because I hate to eat alone.” What they did not see was that all human beings, themselves included, were sinners unfit to dine with God’s son. The prodigal’s father had two wayward sons. To eat with either of them would have been a gift of grace.

The Father is always running down the road to meet the prodigal or out into the field to coax the older brother into joining the celebration. he takes the initiative hoping that his unconditional love will bring us home and melt our proud hearts. God has no choice. He either loves us unconditionally or not at all. We could never clean ourselves up, make ourselves presentable, measure up to his holiness and earn his forgiveness. The Pharisees were not wrong about the sinfulness of the street people, they were just blind to their own sin.

No wonder the Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus. God’s love is greater than anything we can imagine. He loves you and me more than anyone elese loves us. More than our mothers love us. More than we love ourselves.

But eating with sinners was not the most extravagant way Jesus showed the Father’s love. An even more lavish demonstration would blow everyone away. His disciples as much as his enemies. If the Pharisees thought Jesus’ eating with the low-lifes was a spendthrifty and unreasonable gift – they had seen nothing yet.Wineskins Magazine

Bill Love is Directory of Development for Lifetime Chaplaincy, Houston, Texas. Shortly after writing this article, he suffered a severe stroke.

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