YOU CAN USUALLY tell what Jesus' parables are about by looking for the punchline. There usually is one, and it is actually usually at least surprising if not actually funny. The image of the guy walking around with a lumberyard for eyeglasses offering to help people with specks in their eyes is an obvious example.
In the story known as the Prodigal Son, the punchline is harder for us 21st-century folks to get. The father runs to meet the returning son. He runs. That's funny. In that culture, respectable patriarchs don't run nowhere, pal. People can come to them especially people on their way to apologize, as the son is intending.
The punchline is that the character in the story who represents God humiliates himself and runs to meet the character in the story who represents us: those who some people think don't deserve God's love.
The idea that God would become incarnate is repugnant to traditional Judaism. God in human form is repulsive to Islam. God's self-humiliation is at the core of the Christian faith. He runs. To us.
Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.
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