The prodigal son. In this character of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, we can see much about the heart of humanity. The son’s pride of thinking he knows better than the father in asking for his share of the father’s property prematurely, the selfishness to leave his family, the laziness to forsake the work expected of him as a son, the carelessness of his lifestyle away from home, and the overall emptiness that epitomizes his endeavors. Ultimately, we see a depraved man. We see ourselves. It was an enormous dishonor, at this time in history, for a son to ask for his portion from his father while his father was still alive. This son is rebellious, and without care for his father.
This son did an impressive job of squandering all that had been given to him by his father, and when he thinks back on his father, my guess is that he saw no possible way of being able to return. He had basically spit in his fathers face through his selfish requests and actions, and he quickly found himself in deep need. As this need reached its peak, the son decides that it is worth going home, if only to be a servant for his father and at least have enough food to live.
So, the walk home begins. What would be the overriding emotion on such a journey? Shame. A crippling shame accompanies our shortcomings, especially when those shortcomings are the result of our direct disobedience. This son is surely fighting to make it home through the deepest shame he had ever experienced, and his plan was to immediately tell his father that he is profoundly aware of his own unworthiness to be called his son. What kind of greeting does the father give him?
“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24 ESV)
This passage is even more surprising in the duality of the shame taken on here by the father. Not only does he willingly accept his son back into his family after being betrayed by him, but the father also runs to meet him on the road. It was demeaning for a man to lift up his robes and run. Imagine, for a second, to be the son making this journey. Flooded with embarrassment, you are nearing your father’s house; a father who has every right to tell you to turn around and never return to the home you once forsook. The father does not only welcome the son back; he runs to him! He doesn’t allow the son’s dishonor to build any longer than it took for him to see the son approaching from a distance. As the son presumably fights to continue towards the house of his father, he watches as his own father miraculously sprints towards him with a great joy. The son tries to stick to the script he had planned to recite to his father, but he only gets about halfway through his speech before the father is clothing him and preparing for a celebration feast due to the return of his son. Shame had no power in the presence of the father, as he joyfully bore the shame that his son had earned for himself.
This shame is a miniscule picture of the shame bore on our behalf by Jesus. God the Father loves us so much that he made Jesus, the only One who knew no sin, suffer on behalf of all the sins of God’s children and hang on a cross so that we would be freely given his righteousness and be released from the bondage of shame (1 Pet 2:24, 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus Christ bore the shame of his people. He took a weight we couldn’t ever handle, and granted us beautiful gifts in its place:
Jesus bore our shame, so that we would be freed from the curse of sin and brought to life from our deadness in it (Gal 3:13, Rom 6:23).
Jesus bore our shame, to show us the depth of God’s love for us (Jn 3:16).
Jesus bore our shame, to give us victory over its hold on our lives (1 Cor 15:57).
Jesus bore our shame, so that he could sympathize with us in our sufferings (Heb 4:15).
Jesus bore our shame so that we could have relationship with the Father (Eph 3:12).
Jesus bore our shame, so that we could selflessly love others (Jn 15:13).
Shame has no place in the life of the Christian. Shame inhibits, instills fear, and eventually suffocates us. The answer isn’t to put off shame and aim for higher grounds of thinking about oneself, for even in shame we are often engulfed in pride. The answer is to look to Jesus Christ in faith of his free and saving grace. Jesus quite simply took our place. In Him, God’s wrath is fully poured out on our shameful sins. What do we get to joyfully say in the face of shame now? There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)!! Let it sink in. God loves us, he has joyfully taken our shame, and we are freed from it. We are free to love God, free to love others, and free to love ourselves in light of how God has loved us. Shame sits silent in light of the cross of Christ.