One of the most striking pictures that Jesus gives us of what God is like as Father, is in the parable of the prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Though many talks on this passage will focus on the antics of the younger Son, it is actually the Father himself who is the real star of the show - and he has two sons. I would imagine that all of us can relate in some way to both of the sons; there are times when we make a mess of our lives and feel utterly unworthy of God's love, and there are also times when actually we think we're very deserving indeed, thank you very much. And perhaps its the latter instances that we are less willing to admit to. Whichever of the sons we can identify with most easily, the Father is always the same and so always relates to us in the same way.
The love that the Father has for both his children is clear. When the younger son returns the Father sees him "while he was still a long way off"; he's been watching out for him, longing for him to return. It reminds me of when I was younger and expecting a friend to come round to play. I'd be running to the window at the sound of every car, even if we weren't expecting them for another half an hour. And if I felt like that at the prospect of a friend coming for a couple of hours, when I already saw them everyday in school, how much more would God long for his returning, precious, child; watching ceaselessly for the time when he could welcome him home. Then as soon as the son appears on the horizon the Father is running towards him, a very undignified display of perfect Love. Of course as a child there are always times when your parent's display of love for you is just, well, embarrassing. Perhaps this is a little how the younger son feels here, heightened by the fact that he thinks he is so unworthy of his Father's love, and so he makes a feeble protest against this display of affection "Don't be ridiculous Dad, I don't deserve your love". Of course he doesn't! But he is in desperate need of it. And the Father gives his love freely, fulfilling the need and then some. Welcoming his son back with a great feast, a lavish display of the Father's love for his child.
And that's the whole point isn't it? God doesn't love us because we deserve it. He loves us because we're his children and we need his Love. Psalm 103:13-14 puts it like this "As a father shows overwhelming love* to his children, so the LORD shows overwhelming love* to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." The Father loves us so much, because he knows our state, our brokenness, our helplessness.
It's this last point that the eldest son just doesn't understand. I think our initial reaction on reading about the eldest son is to sympathise with him. He's been there all the time, serving obediently, yet the rebellious younger son gets a feast when he returns in disgrace?? How unfair is that! But the thing the eldest son is bothered about is the special celebration, as though the party is a payment for his endeavours "I have done all this for you and yet you never let me have a party!" The Father's response highlights what the elder son hasn't realised, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours". I would imagine the elder son would be highly embarrassed at any undignified display of affection from his Father, because that isn't what he really wants. He has always been safe in the Father's love and in his care, and he is the rightful heir of all that the Father has, yet he is feeling hard done by. We are left wondering whether the Father's entreaty is effective, we do not know if the eldest son ever enters the party, or if he remains outside, too wrapped up in what he thinks he's missing out on. Either way, the Father's love for both his sons is clear, and is most fully expressed in his presence with them and his generosity towards them. He wants them to know his Love; the younger son through a restoration to favour far beyond anything he could have hoped for; and the elder son through realising how he already has everything that the Father could possibly give him and he too is invited to join the feast.
We have a wonderful God, and I hope I never stop rejoicing that, through Christ, we have the right to call him Father. Adopted as his children, God's grace is freely offered to us. I hope we are never too embarrassed to accept, that the one thing we really need is the eager, undignified Love of our heavenly Father.