As I look at the handsome young man who entered the room I think to myself, “I love him!” He takes after his mother, the quick lopsided grin, the sparkle in the eye. He is a sensitive, caring soul and oh!… so strong willed! He has not been himself lately. Distracted somehow, and at times he berates the servants for trivial reasons.
I give him a good hug. “I love you, son.” He breaks from my embrace, and I look into his eyes and see… what? Embarrassment? Nervousness? Then resolve. His sparkle is missing—something tells me he has come here for some serious purpose.
He looks away, inhales deeply, and tells me that he wants his portion of the estate. “What for?” I wonder. It is too much money for such a young man to have all at once. I have an inkling of what is coming and my heart begins to race. He is leaving me.
What have I done to bring this about? Have I not shown him my love? Has he not heard it from my lips often enough? He wants to leave the life I have made for him! I have done all I can to provide his every need from his first breath until now.
In my eyes, he is so young—wet behind the ears. I become fearful. How will he cope, for he is unfamiliar with the ways of the world? People will take advantage of him. He will not find mercy.
My youngest son is waiting impatiently for my answer. I want so badly to refuse him but I fear it would cause greater damage to our relationship. I could lose him completely. I give in.
A few days later, I am leaning against the front door post watching him walk away with a pack on his back and a lift to his step. He does not look back. I am heartbroken. There had been few words spoken but my eyes had pleaded for him to stay. His determined look said he had moved on.
I miss him. Every day I pray for his safety. Most every day I find myself looking up the lane hoping to see his form coming over the rise. I have been watching for him for so long yet I refuse to give up hope…
Wait… is that him breaking the horizon? Yes, I’m sure of it!
I don’t care what others think. I love my boy! I tuck my robe under my belt to run more easily and race toward him. He has spotted me; I see him hesitate and then stop. I scream within, “No! Don’t turn away!” I wave my hands in the air and run harder.
I reach my son and enfold him into my arms for a long embrace. He is hesitant to return it. I feel he has lost weight. And the smell. Whew! A pig sty? I love him! I don’t care and I hold him all the tighter and kiss him. He tastes earthy, mingled with sweat. He has come back. My son is home!
In time I release him and hold him at arm’s length. I do a quick survey and notice how shabby he looks. I look into his eyes and he meets mine.
What do I see there? Many different emotions filter through them. Brokenness. Fear. Shame. And then a glimmer of hope and… faith! It’s there. It’s so faint I can barely see it, but it is there. He believes in me! I can work with that.
I am brought out of my thoughts with his words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…”
My heart sings! He is asking forgiveness and confessing his unworthiness. He has come to his senses. I love him—I always have. My joy soars. He wants to say more but I don’t allow him to. What more is there to say? He has said all I need to hear. Thank you, heavenly Father! My boy is back!
Purposefully I turn to the servants who had trailed behind and say, “Today is a day of celebration! I reinstate my son as a rightful heir. Prepare a feast, for he is back.” Oh, what a glorious day this is!
Later that night the house is packed as people from all over the region, who have heard what has happened, come to celebrate. Throughout the night I look for him in the crowd to make sure I’m not dreaming. He senses my eyes on him, turns, and we share a grin.
A servant has now come to me to say my oldest son is outside and won’t come in. My interest is piqued. As I head for the back door, my thoughts turn to my eldest and I think about how much I love him…
The Healing Truth of God’s Love
Jesus teaches in this story the healing truth of God’s love. To those who struggle with his grace for prodigals, like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus says that God places no conditions on his love for you. He is patient and does not give up on sinners. He waits for you, not wanting you to lose out on what he provides for you through his Son Jesus. He loves you! If your confessed sins of the past continue to haunt you, know that God has chosen not to remember those sins. If you feel guilt for how you have spurned him, know that God is watching, waiting for you to return to him. He desires so fervently to restore you, not to a second-class seat, but with the promise that all that is his is yours. His intent is to confirm again that you are his child and he has never stopped loving you. Hard to grasp at times, isn’t it? But it is truth!
Rev. Luther Stenberg is Pastor of Peace Lutheran Brethren Church in Olympia, Washington, and serves as a representative of the Pacific Region on the Council of Directors for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.