Author: Lynne Carter
Luke 15:11-32New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. … So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. …
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The Prodigal Son story is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I am even drawn to the beautiful paintings by Rembrandt and Pompeo Batoni who paint this story with loving light shining down on the repentant son who returns to the fold of his father’s estate asking only to be a hired servant. Perhaps this story feeds my desire for happy endings or perhaps it fuels my hopes for unconditional love– a promise that I can be loved even though I’m me.
When one looks closer at the individuals in this story, one sees 3 stories juxtaposed against each other. I am fascinated at the dynamics of the three men. Certainly I can relate to the youngest son. I think many of us have gone on journeys where the only real destination is to feed the dark desires of our souls. As with the younger son, his journey was filled with “extravagant wastefulness” on prostitutes. In fact the word prodigal means extravagant wastefulness. And though my personal story doesn’t include prostitutes, it definitely includes journeys of recklessness that in the end equate to the same desire for personal satisfaction that the younger son hoped to find with prostitutes. Have I not sought out something new, shiny and alluring in my moments of darkness? Have I not spent money I didn’t actually have just so I could experience a moment of euphoria? When things around me seem chaotic and overwhelming, have I not filled myself with decadence and succumbed to pure gluttony in reckless pursuit of soothing my soul? Yes! Many times over I have traveled the all too familiar journeys of the youngest son. I’m sure you have too. Whether or not your journey is one of your choosing, you have possibly journeyed down roads of addiction, depression, rejection, failure, worthlessness, abuse or maybe even poor health that might or might not be due to your own lifestyle choices. However you got there, these catalyst had the ability to carry you far from home and have left you lost and void of your father’s loving grip on your life.
What we do not exactly see in this story is how the younger son’s choices may have in turn changed his approach to the world. Does he return changed for the better? Is he now more compassionate? Perhaps he’s more grateful or even more respectful of his father and others. Is he more sensitive to class distinctions and sees the world on a more even playing ground? I think in our hopes for betterment we like to think of the younger son as a new and improved person. But for me, I know I have returned from some of my journeys a bit damaged. I have returned with a sense of timidity and hesitancy on how my place in the world may look now that I have returned home. I have to admit that because my journeys took me away from “home”, the result is that I have slipped more towards the older son.
The older son (bless his heart!) is weighted by baggage. His journey appears to be littered with loads of righteousness, entitlement, and pride that have lead him to a place of darkness. We don’t know exactly why the older son holds such an overwhelming cloud of resentment towards his younger brother, but it is obvious that it prevents him from showing love and compassion. Although it’s not a pleasant thing to admit, I am guilty of letting the hurts I have suffered while on some of my journeys, those moments of rejection, insignificance, and failure, overshadow my ability to reach out in love. I, like the older son, have let the emotions suffered throughout my life create barriers to me reaching out in love. It has been an unfortunate result of wandering much too far from home and letting my journeys injure my heart. Now, I’m protective. This residual fallout from going against the Father is why God gave us His commandments. It was His desire to give us a road map for those times when we are compelled to leave home. We all journey, but God in His immense love for us gave us His commands to protect us from injury while we are away. His desire was to prevent us from hurt and its destructive consequences.
But at the end of our journeys we tend to find our way back, and again we come knocking on the door to return home. Is our passport full of stamps from all of the exciting places we’ve seen? Are we filled with excitement, and eager to share the myriad of pictures we took while discovering the world beyond our own known thresholds? Or conversely, is our suitcase packed with the broken pieces we threw in there as we drug our shattered and dismantled selves back from our own recklessness? To the loving father it is of no significance how you return, it’s only significant that you returned! He is an individual unblemished by any roads that he may have traveled. Who knows, maybe he was once the prodigal son and knows just how important it is to throw open the doors wide and lovingly embrace the one who stands before him. I am quite convinced that he also helped to unpack whatever might have been concealed in the bags of the one standing at his door. He is all too aware that his love is the healing salve for this weary traveler. His unconditional love is the perfect remedy for the one that comes starving and exhausted.
Having spent too many years being both of the sons, I so long to become the father! How I envy the ones that open their arms, not in reckless wastefulness, but in reckless abandonment. How I wish to see the world through the father’s eyes. Slowly, I am taking steps on this journey to love. To those who greet me with a smile and a generous spirit, you are fueling my steps away from distrust and uncertainty. To those who have pushed past my timidity and on through to my laughter, you have encouraged me even further down this road. And for the wonderful individuals who recognize that my hesitancy is not actually animosity, you have helped to put a few pieces back together in my suitcase of broken parts. I am especially grateful for those that have sifted through my words of anger and frustration and saw them as the true words of pain that they truly were and not words spoken from my heart. I trust and hope that we are all on a journey towards the father. I hope we can all travel to a place where we can embrace the one before us regardless of the ugly, seemingly unforgivable bags they carry. Like the father of the prodigal son, I want to be mindful of the painful journeys others have taken and the scars that keep them from fully returning home. Like him, I hope to redirect my journeys of pain into pathways to learning and valuable experience.
Ultimately, I am thankful for our Heavenly Father who is always waiting with open arms. He always shepherds back his lost sheep and eternally tends to our hurts and wounds. I encourage you to never stop knocking at His door.