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.” (Luke 15.20-24).
Having thought, yesterday, about the robe which the father put on his lost son when he was found again, I find myself thinking today of the ring. What does the ring tell me of the Father’s love towards me?
Well, the ring was not just an ordinary ring. It was not merely a decorative piece of jewellery. It was a signet ring. It was a ring that could be pressed into the hot wax dripped on documents such as deeds and contracts and thus seal business-deals that would become binding upon, and would have to be honoured by, the authority that lay behind the ring.
After Joseph has interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Pharaoh tells him: “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck” (Genesis 41.40-42). Likewise, when King Antiochus was dying, he called Philip, one of his friends, “and made him ruler over all his kingdom. He gave him the crown and his robe and the signet …” (1 Maccabees 6.14-15).
The father’s ring on the hand of the son invested the son with the father’s authority. It gave him the right to buy and sell things in the father’s name. It was like a book of signed, blank cheques. It was like a platinum credit card. By giving his long-lost son the signet ring, the father in Jesus’ wonderful little story was telling his boy: “You may have already lost half my fortune, but here, take my ring … go and lose the other half of my fortune, if you will. That’s how much I still love you. Enough to entrust you with all that’s left!”
So what does this mean for me? Has God given me a carte blanche to do whatever I want “in his name” and have him back me up and honour my actions, however misguided? I don’t really think so. I think it is vital not to lose sight of the fact that all of Jesus’ parables, including this one, are about the inauguration of the kingdom of God; and that the kingdom of God is itself the restoration of the paradise that was lost by the fall of Adam and Eve.
In the beginning, “God blessed [Adam and Eve]. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” (Genesis 1.28). In effect, right back at the start, God put a ring on the hands of Adam and Eve in Eden but they gave the rings away … forfeited them, lost them. Now, in this parable, Jesus is teaching that as each prodigal son of Adam and daughter of Eve returns to the Father, the Father restore to them those lost rings and reinstalls them as stewards of the new creation which he is bringing about with the authority to exercise dominion over it.
That, I think, is the light in which I need to see the ring. God has told me to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, and has given me the means of bringing that about in areas that have been allocated to me. I can draw freely on his resources to do so. But am I doing so? Am I using the ring? Do I really believe God has put it on my hand?