"Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance [patience, steadfastness, perseverance]" (James 1.2-3 CSB). This is a tough lesson. Unfortunately for us, as we all know, there is only one way to learn endurance, patience, steadfastness, perseverance, etc.--and that, of course, is through experience, i.e. the 'hard way.' Oh that we could learn patience from a book or some other less difficult way! But no, the only way to learn it is by endurance through trial. It is messy but effective, and ultimately it strengthens our faith and draws us closer to Christ. As the 7th century monk Andreas wrote, "When our Lord and God taught his disciples that they must pray to be delivered from temptation, he meant the kind of temptation which we readily and willingly fall into and which does not contain any kind of trial. But James is talking about the kind of trials which are unwanted and teaches that those who struggle for the truth should not be discouraged by them" (Andreas, Catena). It is precisely these trials, the unwanted ones, that result in blessing in the end. May God strengthen us in his grace not only to endure but to flourish in the tough times we will undoubtedly face!
Though I typically draw on the fathers and other early Christian writers, I know of no better commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son than the explanation by the 20th century theologian Helmet Thielicke. He writes:
The ultimate theme of this story, therefore, is not the prodigal son, but the Father who finds us. The ultimate theme is not the faithlessness of men, but the faithfulness of God.
And this is also the reason why the joyful sound of festivity rings out from this story. Wherever forgiveness is proclaimed there is joy and festive garments. We must read and hear this gospel story as it was really meant to be: good news! News so good that we should never have imagined it. News that would stagger us if we were able to hear it for the first time as a message that everything about God is so completely different from what we thought or feared. News that he has sent his Son to us and is inviting us to share in an unspeakable joy.
The ultimate secret of this story is this: There is a homecoming for us all because there is a home.
Helmet Thielicke, The Waiting Father
Photo credit: Rembrandt A at Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain