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“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. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24)
The news spread like wildfire through the little village. The prodigal son had returned. Months after disrespecting his father, his village, and his God, here he was, walking back towards his home, gaunt and disheveled in his appearance. And oh did the townspeople scoff and sneer:
“He’s only home because he’s hungry. If he still had money, no way he would have come back.”
“Did you hear about what he’s been up to since he left? Prostitutes. Drinking. Living like a complete pagan, that one.”
“That boy has no business showing his face around here.”
But as badly as the townspeople talked about the son, it did not compare to the disdain they showed to the father:
“Can you believe he let his son come home after what he did? What a spineless coward.”
“What kind of father celebrates an ingrate like that? Doesn’t he know that his son is just using him for food and shelter?”
“Ten to one that boy is gone before the end of the year, and it’s that father’s reputation that will be trash for letting him fool him like this.”
And as the music and dancing went on into the night, the townspeople shook their heads dismissively at the prodigal son and his disgraceful father.
Jesus’ story of the prodigal son is simply incredible. As the Pharisees watch Jesus welcoming and eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they mutter judgmentally under their breath “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1). In response, Jesus tells them the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and finally the story of the prodigal son. Go ahead and call the Father a fool, Jesus dares them. But this is how passionately God loves His children and how fully He forgives them. When they turn back to Him, mixed motives and all, He runs out to embrace them, and then throws a party for them.
I’ve been thinking about this story recently as I’ve watched Kanye West’s proclamation of his faith in Jesus through both interviews and his latest album, Jesus is King. I think back to when I first came to Jesus as an 18-year-old freshman at UConn. I remember my mixed motives – after all, it was my love for a girl that first brought me to the youth group where I heard about Jesus. I remember my lack of theological sophistication as a new believer, my lack of awareness of sin in my life, and my slowness to repent of that sin. I can not imagine the embarrassment that would have occurred had I been given an international platform as a new believer the way Kanye West has.
I don’t know where it will go for Kanye. I know that we should pray for him, that God would protect him from the enemy, ground him in the gospel and the Word of God, and that God would help him continue to point people to Jesus. But above all, I know that our Father has been in the business of passionately welcoming home prodigals like you and me and Kanye for thousands of years now. I for one will choose to join in the Father’s celebration.