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The authentic portrait of God

(Ex 32.7-11; 1 Tim 1.12-17; Lk 15.1-32)

In just 32 verses Luke revolutionises our image of the face of God. Jesus is speaking to a smug, complacent group who have built for themselves a catalogue of who is acceptable to God (their in-group) and who is damned. He paints for them three seemingly crazy figures.

The first is a shepherd; certainly not an experienced cautious watchman, but one who is prepared to leave his large flock untended and unsupervised, to trek into dangerous country in pursuit of a stubborn and stupid animal.

The second portrait is of a deserted father who, in defiance of all status and propriety, runs out to greet a dissolute son in rapturous welcome, then leaves the homecoming celebration to plead with an angry and self-righteous son, begging him to come back inside.

The third character is a poor woman in a poor dark hovel searching desperately for the nest-egg that might save her if times turn really bad, mad with joy when she finally locates the last coin.

For many of us a pervading image of God has been the all-seeing judge, biding the moment to confront us with our infidelities and deceits.

Instead, Jesus puts before us a God besotted on mercy. It is true that judgment is an important element of Jesus’ teaching – yet it is not the dominant portrait but the very last.

The authentic portrait of God is of a father who offers, over and over again, mercy and compassion for our repeated failures. The role of the God of judge comes into play only to open eyes blind to see how consistently and repeatedly men and women have turned away from the loving welcome that has been perennially held out to them – and it is their turning away that is their judgment.

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