Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man who had two sons. His firstborn was the serious and responsible one, the younger more impetuous. “Father,” the younger son said to him one day, “I want my inheritance now. Please give me the portion of the estate that would one day be mine.”
It was a terrible and disrespectful request, tantamount to asking his father to drop dead on the spot. But unthinkably, the father simply agreed to divide the estate. The neighboring villagers were furious, and the young man had to leave quickly, forced to sell his holdings at whatever price he could get.
In faraway lands, he spent his money freely and carelessly. And soon it was gone. He found himself alone and penniless in a foreign and famine-stricken land. He had grown up in a respectable Jewish family, but the only job he could find was working for a Gentile, slopping pigs. He was destitute and hungry.
In his desperation, a new thought dawned: “Why am I starving, when even my father’s servants are better off than I am now? I’ll go home and throw myself at my father’s feet. If I’m sufficiently humble, I may be able to get him to take me back.”
All the way home, he practiced his speech: “Father, forgive me. I have sinned in heaven’s sight and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Please hire me as a servant instead.” He rehearsed every nuance of every word, and hoped against hope that his plan would succeed.
Meanwhile, the father stood out in the crowded main street of the village. Some of his servants were with him. The father had often taken to looking to the edge of town, watching and waiting for his son to return.
At last, the day came: the father spied the forlorn figure of his lost son in the distance. Overcome with love and compassion, and with no thought to his personal dignity, he ran up the street to his son.
The servants were caught by surprise, and began to run with him.
The other villagers were surprised. No man of his social station should behave so.
No one, however, was more surprised than the son. His father had no reason to take him back, and every reason to treat him as dead. Thus, the son had worked at getting his apology right.
But he had not uttered even a word before he found himself wrapped in his father’s warm and welcoming embrace. The son was stricken to the soul. Gone was the pretension of humility. All that remained was true, brokenhearted repentance: “Father, I have sinned. I am not worthy.”
But the father was busy giving orders to the servants. “Bring the best robe and put it on his shoulders. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. This is no vagabond; this is my beloved son, come home at last! He was dead, but now he’s alive! He was lost, but now he’s found!”
The father ordered the fattened calf to be slaughtered for a feast, and the entire village was invited to the celebration. And so they celebrated, on into the night.
I’ll say more about this portion of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), and why I’ve retold the story this way, in the next post. But for now, ask yourself: can you really, truly believe that God loves you this way?