The father’s unconditional forgiveness of his repentant son has been recognized at all times as a sublime illustration of God’s foolish love for humankind. Luke tells this story in response to the Pharisees’ critique that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It was not meant to be a model for dealing with the conflicts inherent in this story. I want to bring these conflicts to the fore, and raise basic questions for a comparable modern situation.
1. “Dad, I need $10,000 cash immediately, no questions asked. And promise not to tell mother. I am leaving town in a few days. If you don’t give me the money you will never see me again!”
What would you do or say to your son– assuming that you have the money? I personally would have a very hard time with this question. But you must answer to continue the story.
2. A couple of years later your son comes back and says, “Sorry, dad, that was a mistake. Let me just stay at your house, but please, NO QUESTIONS! I have my own life style and don’t need your preaching. If you don’t let me in, you will never see me again.” What would you do?
3. After a few months it becomes obvious that your son is on drugs. There are strange fellows coming to visit, maybe drug dealers. Some women come to visit at all times. The neighbors start to complain. If drugs are found in the house, the father is liable. What would you do?
4. The older son turns against the father. “I worked for you all these years, and you never gave me a bonus or a promotion. Benjamin has always been your favorite! I’m disgusted!” What would you say to your first-born?
5. Your wife comes out and says, “What about me? How much do I count in this house? It’s a patriarchy of father and sons! I’m fed up: I’m leaving!” What would you say?
Clearly preaching forgiveness seventy-seven times does not answer the above questions.