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I find joy in the way shown by your written instructions more than I find joy in all kinds of riches. [Psalm 119:14 (GW)]

It’s March Madness time for basketball fans and my team is already out of the competition. Last year, however, my choice won—but not in basketball. After placing sixteen popular Bible stories in brackets, my preferred Bible resource site had its followers tweet votes for their favorite story to see which one moved forward. The choices were: Esther and the king, Jesus walking on water, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Joseph and his coat, Jonah and the fish, Noah and the ark, the exodus from Egypt, David and Goliath, Ezekiel and the dry bones, Jericho’s walls, Balaam’s donkey, Daniel and the lion’s den, Jesus healing the blind, Rahab and the spies, and the burning bush. Which would you expect to be the final winner?

Ezekiel and the dry bones didn’t make it past the first round (which I understand since that one sort of creeps me out). Unfortunately, the lovely story of Esther, up against the more familiar parable of the Prodigal Son, was defeated in the first round. In the final round, on one side was the historical account of the young David defeating the giant Goliath. The story is exciting, has danger and violence, and illustrates the supernatural power of God. It’s a tale of a brave young man who demonstrates the power of God with just a sling and a few stones. It tells us that, when we step out in faith, the God we serve can defeat any of the giants in our lives. Everyone loves a story where faith in God beats brute strength and the little guy defeats the big one.

David’s underdog opponent was the parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a moving story with a not totally happy ending. After the younger son insults his father and foolishly demands his inheritance, he squanders it all. In desperate circumstances, he returns home with his head hanging low and is welcomed by his father. The dark side to the story is that the older son, the one who faithfully remained at his father’s side, is indignant and can’t understand his father’s compassion and forgiveness.

At first glance, David’s defeat of the formidable Philistine would appear to be the favorite. Nevertheless, the undefeatable youth was trounced by the Prodigal Son. When we first meet David, even though he’s young, he seems larger than life. He’s handsome, a skilled musician, and described as having good judgment and being a brave warrior. Among all of Jesse’s sons, he is the one chosen by God to become king. Most of us don’t resemble David nor have we been anointed as a king. We’re not heroic future monarchs, but we are God’s troubled children. As much as we appreciate a story of good triumphing over evil, we can personally relate to Jesus’ parable because we all are God’s prodigal sons.

The parable is a story of hope (the father is waiting at the gate for his son), mercy (the boy is not punished), love (he is hugged and greeted with a kiss), forgiveness (he is welcomed as a son, not a slave) and joy (there’s to be a huge celebration). Like the son, we all disappointed our parents and, if we were blessed with children, they disappointed us at times. Moreover, just as the son misused his father’s money, we have misused the gift of free will and squandered the blessings given us by our heavenly Father. This story reassures us that no matter how immoral, unscrupulous, self-indulgent or corrupt we’ve been, God welcomes his children home when they come with humble and repentant hearts. Once dead because of sin, we can come alive again. Knowing what sinners we are, this demonstration of the Father’s love and forgiveness is reassuring. The parable reminds us that blessings aren’t earned and obedience is not what gives us eternal life. God’s grace is not something we deserve but something He freely gives. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for loving and forgiving your undeserving prodigal children.

He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs. As high as the heavens are above the earth—that is how vast his mercy is toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west—that is how far he has removed our rebellious acts from himself. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. [Psalm 103: 10-13 (GW)]

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