My four-year-old grandson spent the night with us last week. Wired to the max, Eli just wouldn’t go to sleep. Every two minutes he was up out of bed. Every two minutes I would scold him from downstairs and urge him to get back in bed. About 11:00 p.m., I threatened to come upstairs to deal with things. I heard him jump back in bed and in a voice I don’t think he intended me to hear, he said, “Stay where you are, Grandpa. Stop worrying about me.” I’m not sure if I was being scolded or reassured, but I know I laughed…long and hard.
His comment made me think of a biblical son who once said much the same thing to his father in a much more serious situation. The story of the prodigal son lives vividly in my memory since I first heard it. The rebellious son, tired of the routine at home, perceiving his father’s guidance as meddling in his business, demands his inheritance in a desire to live life on his own. In his own way. His free will choice. In Jewish culture of the day, his demand was horrifically insulting, casting his father aside as if he no longer existed. Treating him as if he were dead.
The father saddened by the decision, hurt by the demand, nevertheless, divides his resources and gives to the younger son all that he is due. The young man, we will call him Joseph, leaves his home for the wild life of the city, in a short time squandering all he had been given in a life of decadence and sin.
In a freakish coincidence, at the same time he spends his last dime, a famine hits. Life becomes hard for the young man, finding himself abandoned by the friendships he had bought. Destitute and in in desperate need. Joseph finds the only job available to him…slopping hogs for a mean-spirited farmer in a foreign land. Hungry and alone, Joseph is tempted to eat the table scraps he’s feeding to the hogs. Tears roll down his face, horrified at the turn life has taken. Joseph realizes his father’s servants fare better. Tossing the last of the garbage to the sow and her litter, the young man sets out for home, practicing a speech borne by hunger both physical and spiritual…full of regret and repentance.
It is a story to which most of us can relate as we think of those times we chose to go our own way, seduce by the glamour and glitz of the world. We tell God in no uncertain terms, “Stay where you are. Stop worrying about me.” Before we make that choice, it makes sense to give some thought to the father in our story. I suspect it went something like this.
Repeated every day since Joseph left.
Rises early each morning.
Climbs the stairs to the roof of his home.
Turns toward the morning sun,
offering a prayer for his son’s safe return.
Day after day.
One eye on his work.
One eye on the road his son had taken.
Work stops with every
shadowed figure emerging from the distant haze.
Heart beating through his chest as he prays
this distant traveler is his returning son.
The father watches until he discerns the inevitable.
The traveler’s posture and gait…
unfamiliar and unknown.
The knot in his stomach…
Tight with tension.
Thus ends another day…
longing for his son’s embrace.
Day after day.
Until this day…
The father stood in the middle of the field,
watching the small swirl of dust rising in the distance.
Hope again rises in his heart as it always does.
Compassion overflows with the recognition.
The step of the traveler is
fatigued, but familiar.
The father pulls the hem of his garment above his knees,
dashing quickly down the road.
Eyes never straying from the approaching figure.
Calling out his son’s name in sheer joy.
The father’s arms encircle the young man’s waist,
hoisting him off the ground.
He spins twice with Joseph in his arms,
not quite believing he has returned.
The father sets him down at last,
holding him at arms-length.
A grin as wide as the Jordan Valley on his face.
Joseph stunned at his father’s welcome,
drops his eyes and falls to his knees.
Begins his practiced speech.
“Father, I have sinned…”
“…no longer worthy of being your son…”
He experienced grace.
The father wrapped his strong arms around his boy,
lifting him to his feet.
He turns to the servants just now catching up after the father’s mad dash.
In a voice choked with emotion he tells them,
“Bring his robe.
His best pair of shoes.
Dress him as my son.
Prepare a barbecue feast.
Invite the whole village.
My son who was lost has been found.”
In one of his most powerful parables, Jesus defined sin with crystal clarity. How often have we looked at the world around us, enticed by its “eat, drink and be merry—live for today” philosophy, insisting upon our inheritance, our piece of the pie? How often have we looked at the Bible and its teachings and decided it lacks relevance to life, situation or need? How often have we demanded of the Father, “It my life, my inheritance. I desire to live life on my own. In my own way. My free will choice. You don’t worry about me!” How hurtful that must be to the Father when our choice is tantamount to saying, “I want you out of my life. You are dead to me?” There’s no other way to sugarcoat it. That’s what sin is. Running away from the Father to pursue our own brand of selfishness.
Here’s the thing. Those who heard Jesus speak that parable would clearly understand that the father would have been in his right to disown the son. To send him from his home, penniless, with nothing. Just for making the demand. Banished from the love of the father and the security of his home. Yet, the father reacts unexpectedly. Heartbroken at his son’s decision…most certainly. Fearful of the dangers his son would face…without a doubt. Painfully aware the son would surely fail on his own… no question. Yet, he let him go. Just as the father in our story, God in heaven yields to our free will, feeling the heartbreak, fear and understanding that the path we have chosen leads to ruin.
By its very definition, to be prodigal is to be wasteful. When we walk out on God, we are wasting our potential, our promise and our purpose, tossing those things aside as if they were scrapes to feed the hogs. Yet, while we’re away living life our way, the Father remains at home, one eye on His labor, one eye on the road we’ve taken, praying that we will come to our senses, longing for our safe return. Too often, we have to be sitting in the muck of a pig sty, Hungry for that which sustains us, before we realize how wonderful it was to rest in the bosom of our Father.
There is one more act of significance buried in the story…one that may be less familiar to us than to those who listened as Jesus taught. The village had a shared responsibility to protect the father from further embarrassment. Had the young man entered the village, even to return to the father, it would have been their responsibility to send him away, to protect the father from the humiliation of the son’s return. They would never get that chance because the father took the first steps. You see, in the culture of the day, running was an undignified act for a man. It just wasn’t done. To run, the man would need to life his robe, exposing his undergarments. An act of humiliation. The father, beyond caring or concern of what he must look like, was more than willing to suffer humiliation to welcome home his lost son.
Was it not God Incarnate who allowed himself to be nailed on a cross in ultimate humiliation to offer salvation to a lost world. Is this not God’s way? When we return home with a repentant heart, ashamed of the life we have lived. Afraid of what the future holds. He meets us along our path and draws us into his arms. He never gives up on us even when the world around us does. No rebuke. No recriminations. No accepting the son’s remorse and assigning him less than his place in his father’s house. His embrace said it all…Welcome home. Wear the clothes of my son. Eat at the family table. Worthy of celebration.
As I told my grandson, Eli, after I stopped laughing and entered his room. “I have to worry about you. I love you.” I think God tells us the same.” I will watch, wait and worry for you until the day you return simply because I love you.
As the song reminds us, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but know I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”
Source: The Searcher