Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Prodigal Son .

“So the young son set off for home. From a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and the father was deeply moved with compassion (splagchnizomai) for his son. The father’s heart was overflowing with love for him, this son who was finally returning home. So the father raced out to meet him. He swept his son up in his arms, hugged him dearly, and covered him with kisses.” (Luke 15:20; also please read the entire story in Luke 15:11-32). 

splagchnizomai  (splawnk – NITZ – oh – mi). Don’t let that strange Greek word put you off. It turns out to be one of the most meaningful ideas in the gospels, and it describes Jesus to a T. Most Bible versions translate this word to mean “moved with compassion.” But somehow that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. One might even say it doesn’t go deep enough. The literal meaning of this word is “to have one’s bowels yearn,” which makes sense since the root word for it is “intestines.” Since the innermost organs were considered at that time to be the seat of human emotions, and since love is the emotion being implied, splagchnzomai could be understood as an experience in which true compassion has its beginnings from down deep in the gut. This word points to an intense emotional experience that is felt in the pit of one’s stomach. This profound compassion is not superficial by any means, not casual, not distant. This compassion is immediate and so deeply felt that it demands action. This compassion is so visceral that it must find an outlet, a target, in doing something physical and helpful.

As we deepen our union with Christ, as we live into His reality and character, we also live into His compassion, into being deeply moved to our very innards. As theologian Jeff McSwain once said, “If we truly are ‘in Christ,’ then just as we’ve been given the mind of Christ, we’ve also been given the ‘gut’ of Christ.” Every Christian, being a little Christ, will live into the possession of the sensitive gut of Jesus.

The gospel writers recorded Jesus as using the important truth of this gut-word in three of His famous parables: The Unforgiving Servant, the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son. The gospel authors wrote this word down in each story because they knew that Jesus had demonstrated it during his ministry, and in fact was very intentional about incorporating it into His parables. The gospel writers were inspired, and they read the mind of Jesus as they recorded His stories. This crucial character quality, this ability to be deeply moved with compassion, is woven into the very nature of God, and we notice that in each of these three parables it was the God-figure who experienced it… The gut-punch of love, compassion felt in the pit of the stomach, the intense emotion deeply inward that produced the compassion that characterized the Lord. The Son of God was often deeply moved in His time on earth, and it was important that these pictures of God in the stories also were deeply moved in compassion. Jesus was a Man who felt compassion deep in His gut, and He loved telling stories in which that gut feeling was an important factor.

The Story of the Prodigal Son. The parables of the “lost things” in Luke 15 spiral down to the final figure who is truly lost. In the first parable there is the lost sheep, 1 out of 100; then there is the lost coin, 1 out of 10; then there is the lost younger son, 1 out of 2; finally, there is the lost older son, 1 out of 1. Everything that Jesus had told with his cluster of “lost” parables seem to point to the really lost one, the self-righteous, self-absorbed, externally religious and dutiful one. The first three parables were told for the benefit of this fourth story of the prodigal son. Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees, in response to their judging and grumbling, the story that will, if they are humbly listening, cut to their hearts like a knife, will command their attention like a big firecracker. Jesus meant for the grousing Pharisees to see themselves in the older brother. They are to take this part of the story personally.

The Father. It has been suggested that Jesus wanted to communicate the nature of His Father in this pivotal parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Jesus here shares His own experience with Abba Father. He in effect defined the meaning and substance of the Father in this parable. In Jesus’ mind, this is what His Father looks like, a Father who is deeply moved with compassion. He in fact is redefining the inaccurate picture of the Father as an overbearing ogre full of power and authority, who loves to punish and threaten, who at times is distant and indifferent and other times a cruel taskmaster. Jesus paints a picture of the Father that contrasts with all that, a Father as Abba, a kind and forgiving God who wants what’s best for each person, a Father who genuinely cares for each person in the human family with an eternal love, who desires an intimate personal relationship with His children. Doesn’t Jesus’ picture of the Father here make you want to be His child? Consider the actions and attitude of the father in this parable:

  1. A father who didn’t take offense when personally rejected by his son and asked to split his inheritance before the father even dies;
  2. A father who patiently endured humiliation at having his own son waste his inheritance;
  3. A father who responded with compassion when his wayward son returns home penniless;
  4. A father who was actively waiting for his son to return, on a continual lookout for his defeated son, a father who seemed poised to show mercy;
  5. A father who publicly degraded himself by running, which fathers aren’t supposed to do, to meet his son;
  6. A father who physically embraced his wastrel son, saving him from the eventual village gauntlet;
  7. A father who continued to pour out grace and compassion by repeatedly kissing his renegade son. This is a reversal of the typical scenario in which the repentant son is expected to kiss the father’s hands or feet;
  8. A father who restores the prodigal son to full family status, giving him the father’s feasting robe, the family signet ring, and a pair of sandals that would distinguish the son from hired servants;
  9. A father who threw a huge village feast with a fatted calf, feeding at least 100 people. Instead of rejection, the father threw a celebration;
  10. A father who would absorb another public insult by leaving his post as the host at the feast in order to search for his ungrateful elder son;
  11. A father who patiently accepts the elder son’s unwarranted insult and bitter attitude.

This is how the Son pictures the Father. Who wouldn’t want to join His family?