There is a parable in the gospels that is commonly called “the Prodigal.” It’s a story that Jesus tells of a father with two sons. The youngest comes to his father one day and says “father I want my inheritance now.” In other words telling his father – I don’t really care anymore about you, whether you live or die. I just want your money and I’m tired of waiting for it.
So, with a broken heart the father gives his youngest son his inheritance. The son leaves town, goes off to foreign lands and wastes his money completely on wild living. Having absolutely nothing left but a desire not to die of starvation the young son decides to return home and beg for his father’s mercy.
To understand the next part of the story you need to understand a little of all that’s involved. You see this young son has offended and hurt not only his father but his entire family and village by what he’s done. He has effectively and completely cut himself off from everyone. All he deserves is public humiliation and disgrace.
On arriving home, this young son is expecting a crowd to gather around him, begin to mock and potentially beat him before dragging him outside the city where he will sit and wait to see if his father will allow him back into his presence. There the young son can finally beg for mercy. This is what the son is expecting bc this is what happens, this is the culture, the people, the standard. This is the norm. This is also what the people listening to Jesus expect to hear.
But what happens next? You see the father knows what will happen to his young son when he returns home. He knows the crowd that will gather and what they will do. He also knows this is truly what the young son deserves. However, the father isn’t like everyone else.
Instead, Jesus says this father is watching and waiting for his young son’s return and when the father sees him a good distance off the father takes off running for his son.
Before anyone else can get to his son he wants to get there first.
But there’s more to it than that. The word used here for “run” would better be translated as “raced.” The father raced to his boy. No respectable adult male would run in this culture. You walk with dignity, you are the elder, the rest of the world can wait for you. To run at this father’s age would be a humiliating act. In a culture where shame is one of the worst things that can happen to a person you do whatever it takes not to bring shame on yourself or your family. Yet this father, in an act of pure and selfless love for his young son, knowingly and willingly takes the shame his son rightly deserves and puts it on himself. Who are the villagers going to focus on – not the young man who’s a distance off, but this older and respectable man racing through their town like a little kid. Who are the villagers going to follow, laugh at, potentially even tease and mock? Who’s going to suffer pain and humiliation in this scenario? The father who is racing to welcome home his young son, the prodigal.