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We have four Gospels about Jesus, but do we have a Gospel of Jesus? I like to think we do, and it’s found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The story not only provides a summary of the entire problem of sin and salvation, it also gives us the key to the mystical thread that I believe represents the heart of his message.
Luke positions this parable and the two that precede it—the lost coin and the lost sheep—in the early Christian context of the wayward sinner, which is how it is usually considered today. Though we’re led to believe that Jesus taught a repent or else message, his original intent was probably more in line with the less abrasive, forgiving words and actions of the father toward his wayward son. It’s been suggested that Luke was seeking to appease a remnant of John the Baptist’s following who would have been accustomed to John’s harsher tone.
An overview of this parable shows that it contains all three phases of the Hero’s Journey: 1) the departure 2), the initiation 3) the return. The son leaves his ordinary life to heed the call to adventure. Once out, he encounters severe trials that lead him to the brink of disaster. His transformative moment occurs when he comes to himself. The arrogance of youth is replaced with humble compliance. He returns home a changed character.
I think the perfect litmus test for Jesus’ gospel is found in how well his various sayings align with the tone of this parable. The sinner is punished by his sins, not for them. The father does not forgive the son because he never condemns him. He expresses nothing but unconditional love. The only condemnation in the story comes from the older brother, who represents the demand for punishment found in so many mainstream religions.
If we go back to the statement that Truth is the omnipotence of God expressing as the spiritual essence of every individual, we see this principle portrayed in the prodigal story. The father represents this perpetual state of self-expression in his love for both sons. Our wayward thinking does not change the expressive activity of God in us. We may wander into the far country of despair, but because this relationship of oneness is unchangeable, we can come to ourselves and begin our journey home, no bargaining required.
The younger son breaks the rules and the older son insists on punishment for his sins. Both suffer as the result of their transgressions. The father goes out to welcome his wayward son, but he also goes out to console his angry son.
The story clearly illustrates the unconditional love of God, a message worthy of being treated as the good news, the Gospel that Jesus likely intended to bring to the world.
One thought on “The Gospel of Jesus”
I especially like the statement, “The sinner is punished BY his sins, not FOR them.” Whatever someone else, or society as a whole, does to “punish” a person who has sinned against others, it is for their own benefit that they do it.