I am intrigued by verse 22. It says the father was not listening. We may all have memories when we thought our parent(s) were not listening. Our children are painfully aware of times when we were not listening to them.
A son who asked for an early inheritance was understood as wishing that his father were already dead. And then to take that inheritance and blow it was doubly injurious.
No wonder the son came home begging for mercy.
The son loves his father in the end, but his love is immature. His love is quick to let shame define the boundaries and rewards of relationship. Immature love knows it is unworthy of acceptance and is willing to settle for the least. The awareness of shame and belief that we cannot be trusted is where we start our lengthy explanations to the father. He hears it and chooses to ignore it. The father is not listening to the shame based rhetoric. Mature love finds the reasons to celebrate and strengthen the relationship. The father focuses on restoration and resurrection. Lost is now found. Dead is now alive.
The father would not listen to the hardened heart of society who defined how to respond to the dishonor from a son who brought so much shame to his household.
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, explains that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The community would totally reject him.
So, why did the father run? He probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village. The father runs — and shames himself — in an effort to get to his son before the community gets to him, so that his son does not experience the shame and humiliation of their taunting and rejection. The village would have followed the running father, would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reuniting of the prodigal son with his father, it was clear that their would be no kezazah ceremony; there would be no rejecting this son — despite what he has done. The son had repented and returned to the father. The father had taken the full shame that should have fallen upon his son and clearly shown to the entire community that his son was welcome back home.
In the parable, only the father could restore the son to full sonship in the family. In our case, we are sinners, and there is nothing that we can do to restore our lost relationship with the Holy God of the Universe. He calls us and waits — a single repentant step in his direction, and he is off and running to welcome us back home![i]