I suppose I’ll just shoot straight with him. “Dad, I messed up. You raised me to ‘Honor my father and my mother, that it might go well for me in the land that God has given us.’ I have sinned against heaven and against you. Though I don’t deserve it, please at least make me like one of your hired servants. You don’t have to treat me like your son, just let me work and earn a wage.”
That’s it, I suppose. Short and sweet; to the point. There is so much more that I’m going to want to say, but will I even get the opportunity to say it? It seems like such a risk to go back home because I don’t know what’s waiting for me. Will he run me off the property? Or worse, throw me off the property? It’s sadly ironic, really, that I chose to treat him like he’s dead to me, and now I can’t help but think that somehow I’m dead to him. And he’s right to think of me this way.
What in the world was I thinking? That man used to be my hero, the one who made everything feel right and safe. It’s funny how the little things seem so huge now, like how dad would scoop me up and tell me how much he loved me. Or how he would always have time to wrestle with my brother and me just to be close to us. He isn’t as much of a monster as I thought he was, really. How foolish of me to think that he was the problem! All he did was love me, and I couldn’t see it because I was just too selfish; I wanted what the world had to offer, not him. He only tried to show me what it was like to be a man and protect me from lies that the world around me whispered. Boy, was he right! It’s amazing how quickly the boys at the bar disappeared when I couldn’t pay the tab anymore and how those hookers and their “good time” left me just as fast. You know, I don’t think any one of those people actually called me by my name… did they even know what it was?
Do I look Dad in the eye when I talk to him? Can I even look him in the eye? I’m afraid that if I do, he’ll just see right into the depth of my heart. But he must know anyway… how else do you blow that much money and have nothing to show for it? As soon as he sees me he’s going to know. My clothes are covered with mud and pig crap. All of the ceremonial washings in the world can’t cover the stench of where I’ve been. He will probably smell me coming before he sees me. Either way, I guess I should just expect him to turn me away and tell me to never come back. Maybe I should just turn around now…
No, I can’t. What other option do I have? I have nowhere else to go and all that awaits me is death, I’m sure. “Please, just treat me as one of your hired servants”—that is the very least that I can ask, right? I mean, his property is big enough. Who couldn’t use one more laborer? And at least then I’d be able to eat bread like a normal person and have somewhere to sleep.
Well, there is one of Dad’s boundary markers. What am I going to say? “Dad, I have sinned against God and against you…”
Wait, who is that and why is he running at me? Dad runs like that… Oh great, it’s just what I feared would happen. He’s going to throw me off his property! I guess I have it coming. I’ll just take my lumps and maybe if I can just plead my case… But wait, why is he calling my name? It doesn’t sound like he’s yelling at me, but shouldn’t he be?
“Dad! Dad, wait! Before you say anything, I know I’m not supposed to be here. And right now I’m filthy and I don’t have anywhere to clean myself up and you won’t want to touch me after all the places I’ve been. Dad, I’m sorry! But please just hear me out because I have nowhere else to go and I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, I have sinned against heaven and against you, but… Dad? Why are you hugging me?”
And saying to me, “Son, Let us eat and celebrate. For you, my son, were dead and are alive again. You were lost and now are found.”
Children of God
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
It’s hard to fathom the love of God the Father. We run so far from him and toward everything else in creation except for him. We desire the allure of a sinful and broken world and chase after all of its “pleasures,” but they only leave us broken and empty with nowhere else to turn.
But though we might forget God, he never forgets us. He calls to us even when the rest of the world forgets our names, because our names are engraved on his hands. Though he finds us covered with the filth of our own sin and shame, he chases after us, hugs us, and clothes us with a righteousness apart from ourselves. Though we ought to be dead to him, he gives us life.
The cross makes all of this possible. In Christ’s death, our sin was atoned for, and his blood washes us clean. In our repentance, he robes us with Christ’s righteousness and adopts us as his children, rightful heirs of his kingdom and co-heirs with Christ. Through all of this, God our Father rejoices that though we were once dead, we are alive again. Though we were lost, we are now found.
Rev. Evan Langlois is Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship at Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church in East Hartland, Connecticut, and serves as vice-chairman of the Eastern Region of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.