Wednesday, May 12, 2010

With the Scent of Pigs

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

Have you ever wondered at the arrival of the prodigal son? To refresh your memory, let me give you a bit of the back story. This youngest son of his father demanded his inheritance, squandered it in wild living and found himself feeding pigs in a foreign land. As he longs to feed himself with the pigs’ food he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s house, that his father’s servants are better off than he, and determines to return home that very moment.

Now, several miles down the road we find this son walking in humility toward home. The father has been waiting for him all that time and runs to meet his returning child. With such grace and love, the father receives his son and takes him back into the home.

There are two things I want you to see, and they are conspicuous by their absence.

The first is this: the son never mentions cleaning himself up before he heads for home. Think about it. The son of a wealthy, Jewish landowner returns home with the scent of pigs lingering like a malevolent cloud all about him. The scent of that unclean creature to the Jewish life permeated the son’s clothing, his hair. He had pig dirt under his finger nails. But the son had “come to his senses” (verse 17). That’s the key. It didn’t matter the external reality of his life any longer—his heart was changed. He longed for home and for his father and though he carried the scent of pigs on his body, it would not hinder him from returning.

That is the humility of faith—that God will receive me and I can return to Him even though I still have the scent of pigs. How many have refused God because they thought they needed to “clean up” before they came back? How many have stayed away from God because they thought they were “unacceptable?” Of course you’re unacceptable! If you were acceptable you wouldn’t need grace. All of humanity is unacceptable to God—we all have the scent of pigs on us. But God loves you and is watching for your return—all you have to do is come to your senses and come back to the Father.

The second is this: the father never demanded his son clean up to be received. Again, think about it. This Jewish man, whose son squandered his wealth, sees his son returning on the road. Anger and resentment might be the normal reaction. But, before the son could protest, the father rushes him and throws his arms around him and kisses him—despite the fact that there remains the scent of pigs. Remember, the father was “filled with compassion.” That’s the key. Compassion—true compassion—receives and embraces anyone who humbly comes.

This is the nature of grace—that God watches and longs for His creation to return so that He can embrace them and be a Father to all who come. God does not hold people off at “arm’s length” until they clean themselves up from all their past and remove the scent of pigs from their lives. God rushes to receive any who come to Him by faith and He casts His mantle upon them, blesses and kisses them with His unending love, and celebrates with great joy when one sinner returns. Jesus touched the lepers and ate with sinners and spoke with prostitutes and walked with the rabble of this world. He never cast them off because He knew that the only means of expressing God’s love is to embrace—going so far as to stretch His own arms on the cross and cry out, “Father, forgive them.”

The cleaning up will happen. The longer the son remains in the presence of his father the less he will carry the scent of pigs. The longer we remain in the company of God, living in humble faithfulness, the more we lose the odor of this world, eventually to never again radiate with the scent of pigs.

Rev. Michael Duncan