If you are like me, you’ve always imagined the prodigal son as a teen–an olden-day equivalent of a college graduate in pursuit of their self, their fortune, and the time of their life.
Here’s the story of the lost son, in case you aren’t familiar with it:
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “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. 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. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “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! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 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. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’ ” (Luke 15:11-32 NIV)
I was wondering tonight, what if the prodigal son wasn’t young? Sure, he was the younger son. But what if he was a father himself, and married. What if he had built a home and had responsibilities in his father’s business that he just up and left? What if he was his brother’s best friend. And then, for whatever reason, he just left. Turned his back on it all, in search of a better life…or at least a different one.
You probably know of a person like this. Maybe you or a close friend was a member of the family left behind when the prodigal left to find himself or herself. Maybe it was your daughter. May it was your father.
I know a man who ran and ran, like Jonah, across the seas to flee his life. I never really knew why. I was young when I knew him. I figured he felt frustrated with his relationship, so he left. But every once in a while, I heard from him or got news about him. In another country, with a whole other life, he seemed so gone. If not for Facebook, I probably never would have heard from him again. Gone. Free from his commitments to family and home, he was able to start fresh, and to create a new life which he enjoyed for years.
But years turned into decades, and something began to pull him home. Was it years of prayer from his parents, his estranged wife, and his daughter? Was it unexplainable failing health? Or was it feeling so low that he finally “Came to his senses,” as the younger son in the story did. I really don’t know. All I know is that he came home.
I guess the point is, that God still loved him. God took him back. God wanted him back.
The older brother wasn’t so sure. He was so hurt when the younger brother left. He probably cycled through the five stages of grief at least once. He had been left to take on extra work to care for the wife and children who were left behind. After his brother returned, he was noticeably jealous of the rejoicing that took place when the wayward son came home. He was pissed off.
And think of the wife left behind. Betrayed as her husband went and spent his money on prostitutes, possibly drugs, probably wasteful things. That money should have gone to buy her clothes, to feed and educate their children, to shelter the family. But now it was gone. Wasted.
It’s an amazing love that takes us back and draws us into the arms of God. Us.
Me. Not my sister or brother or father. Me. I’ve squandered the wealth God has given me. Maybe not all of it. But I’ve wasted and wandered, and suddenly it’s clear that God wants me back. Fully, whole-heartedly, without shame.
And those arms will open wide for me. And others might not understand. But it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.