August 24th, 2013
08:40 AM ET
Opinion by Jon Acuff, Special to CNN
(CNN) - No one has ever accused us Christians of being fun.
No one has ever said we are a laugh-filled group.
No atheist has ever said, “I might not love Jesus, but his followers sure know how to party!”
And yet, in my favorite story in the Bible we actually see Jesus paint the opposite picture.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke referenced in approximately 42 million sermons. If you’ve missed it though, allow me to summarize.
A young son said to his dad, who represents God, “I want my inheritance.” This was the cultural equivalent of saying, “I wish you were dead!” The father gives him the money. The son immediately runs off to the Jersey shore and fist pumps the night away with 4 Loko and Skrillex. [Not a direct translation.]
After squandering all the money and awakening in a pig pen, the son devises a plan. He will come home, apologize and throw himself at the mercy of the father. His greatest hope is that the father will let him be a servant. He can’t even imagine getting to keep the title “son.”
He comes home expecting punishment, but instead something weird happens.
The father sees him from a distance and sprints toward him. He runs toward him and embraces him. Before the son can even get his whole apology out, the father has already started planning the last thing he expected.
Instead of punishment he gets a party.
The idea that God fixes problems with parties is crazy.
Who does that?
Life doesn’t work that way. Imagine that you messed up at work. Your boss called you in and said, “Johnson you lost our biggest account! You just cost this company more than 3 million dollars. You know what that makes me want to do? Throw you a party!”
Or think about this in the context of a marriage. Have you ever had an argument with your spouse? Not a fake argument but one that lands you on the couch overnight.
You come into the kitchen and your wife is doing that “mad dishwashing” move we all do when we’re upset. Just power scrubbing pots and pans with a vengeance, mumbling the entire time.
You approach her slowly and say, “Heyyyy baby, how do you feel this morning?” Without looking at you, she takes a deep breath and says, “You really hurt my feelings. Last night, you really surprised me by what you did. My mom was right about you. I’m so angry and disappointed. This whole thing makes me want to get an inflatable bounce house and throw a huge celebration in your honor!”
That would be ludicrous.
Our worst mistakes don’t end in parties, but in this story in the Bible, it did.
When given the opportunity to talk to a group of people, the picture Jesus drew of his Father was of a party giver; someone who met sinners with welcome home banners.
What if Christians were like that?
What if churches became the place where failures found new beginnings?
What if we were known for our parties, not for our Pharisees?
It all feels a little crazy, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Christians should offer hope in exchange for hurt, new in exchange for old, parties in exchange for pain.
Are we there yet?
Nope, we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve still got a lot of things to work through, a lot of progress we have to make.
But when you think about the prodigal son story, I hope you will remember something.
Two people moved.
And we prodigals are the walkers.
We still have a running God.
And he is ready to throw a party.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jon Acuff
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.