What Is A Jesus Kind of Love?
Finding Love in the Prodigal Son's Story
First things first: Happy Birthday Mom!! Thank you for showing me the love of God for a long, long, long time.
I want to tell you a story. Actually, it’s a story that Jesus told. And honestly, it might fly in the face of what you think God thinks about you.
You hopefully know by now that I’m on a mission of love. Everything I write and create is to help us all understand more deeply how loved we are by God, and then find ways to live out that love, life, faith, and hope to everyone around us. Love is my agenda. Not just any kind of love—it’s a Jesus kind of love.
(I even wrote a song about it. Have you heard it yet?)
In Luke 15 Jesus is addressing some guys who had been complaining that Jesus welcomes and hangs out with sinners. I get that. I’ve received messages from well-meaning Christians asking why would I help that prisoner’s family? Do they deserve to be helped? Are you sure he’s repented for his crime? Or why would I go to a bar? Or (this one floored me) why I would do a concert at a particular church that appeared to welcome sinners?
It can feel like many Christians are stingy with their love for other people. “Jump through these hoops, say these magic words, and then we’ll be free to love you,” they appear to say. “Clean up your act, and then we can hang out.” Based on Jesus’ words, this has been the same thinking of religious people for millennia. And he very clearly states, this isn’t the love of the Father.
If you don’t know the Parable of the Prodigal Son - you can read it right here.
Short story, shorter and paraphrased: A man had two sons that lived with him, helping him out with all their farm stuff. One son decided that there must more to life than the life he’d been living. He got bored. He got apathetic to how good he had it on the farm. Maybe he saw an Instagram post of life in the big city and the allure of all the fun it offered was too much to pass up. I like to think he just wanted to feel special, valuable, and not just for being his father’s son, or his brother’s brother… but on his own. He wanted to find his own identity. Which can be a good thing, or a really bad thing.
It didn’t go so well. In fact, it went horribly. He wasted everything his father had given him before leaving. He had nothing. The pig slop even started looking appealing.
He then thought up in his head a way to try to get back in his father’s good graces. Turns out he hadn’t left home on the best of terms, having called his father as good as dead, asking for half his inheritance, in advance.
I can relate to this guy because I also love crafting conversations in my head before I have them. It’s all about control, crafting a sales pitch for what we want to get from someone else so our life is the way we think it should be.
This kid thought he could convince his father how sorry he was for what he had done. Which would hopefully get him back in good with his dad.
The Jesus twist to this story is that the son never needed to deliver his sales pitch to his dad. He had no clue his dad had been watching for him. He had assumed his dad had given up on him, and he’d have to grovel at his feet. But nope, at first sight of him, the father ran out to his son, embraced him like a lover, and threw him a huge party.
There are so many beautiful insights in this parable that I could write a ton about. (Especially about how I have lived most of my life sharing the older brother’s stinky attitude.)
If I was to grab one main point from this awesome story it’d be this: God isn’t waiting for you and me to get our act together before God pours out unbelievable love all over us. God doesn’t need to hear our sale pitch about how sorry we are.
I hear the religious people respond to Jesus, and maybe to this post today, saying: “But isn’t it important that someone repents of their sin, and asks God for forgiveness, in order to open up that flow of love?”
Yes, but those words can ring hollow for a lot of people who don’t want to fall into a religious trap. Repenting is a turning. It’s a changing of the mind, the heart, the body. For the prodigal, it was a re-turning to where he was so unbelievably loved. The father wasn’t waiting with a list of questions, or demands that his son never leaves again, or is perfect from here on out. His father loved him because he was his son.
Choosing to return to that place where you know you’ve always been loved is what it means to experience the love of God. Once you know that kind of love, you’re free to give that away to anybody else you meet. Even if they don’t appear to deserve it.
Who wants to throw a party?
One of my favorite books of all time is Henri Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s a story about the relationships we all have with each other, framed around Rembrandt’s famous painting of the same name. I highly recommend this book if you want to dive deeper into God’s love and our identity as the beloved. And it’s also a great intro to Nouwen, one of the greatest authors/teachers of influence in my life. His daily meditations are incredibly life-giving to me, especially for understanding my identity as the Beloved.
Thank you, Mark for sharing this. I wonder why Christians (and others for that matter) seem to be "stingy with their love for other people". Especially when it says in the bible "to love your neighbor as yourself" and "to hate the sin but love the sinner". I guess it has to do with the conditional love (if at all) most of us grew up with, all those conditions that had to be fulfilled in order to be liked or at elast not picked on so much.
According to trauma therapists most of us have a hard time receiving love because we weren´t loved unconditionally as children. And I also wonder how many of us have actually been blessed with experiencing God´s love, I mean to actually really feel it. I so long for having that experience. So, if you don´t have that and did not feel loved as a child, it will be hard to give love to others (and yourself).
And if you don´t understand childhood trauma, you do not understand the consequences it will have later in life (e.g. addiction) and keep telling people "to get their act together" instead of being willing to listen to their life story of what happened to them. Gabor Maté´s book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" is an eye-opener and much recommended reading, as it offers a different perspective thus leading to compassion - for oneself and others. And out of that compassion, love might eventually come through.