“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:17-24)
Have you ever lost something of great value only to find it again later? Do you recall the joy you experienced when you found it again? I recall when I still played baseball that I was preparing for a game one day and I couldn’t find my glove. It was a critical piece of equipment that would determine if I would even be allowed to play that day. Sure, I could probably have borrowed a glove from someone else, but it wouldn’t have been the same because it was my glove. It was familiar and it fit my hand. It had my name on it. And it had been given to me by my grandfather, so there was a sense of sentimentality attached to that glove as well. And at the last minute, I found it, lying underneath the edge of my bed. I yelped with joy and then ran to head off to join my teammates to play the game.
The parable of the prodigal son is prefaced by two other parables of an owner who has lost a prized possession. One was the story of a man with 100 sheep, who lost one. He left the 99 other sheep to find the one that wandered off. And when he found the lost sheep, he rejoiced and carried it home and throws a party. (Luke 15:3-7) The second parable is one of a woman who lost one of 10 silver coins. She light a lamp, cleaned the entire house, until she found it. And when she found it, she threw a party – rejoicing. (Luke 15:8-10) How much more so was the rejoicing of the father over the return of his lost son!
The son had “come to his senses” and realized that those in his father’s house were well fed. So he thought to himself, since I treated my father as if he were dead by demanding my inheritance while he was still alive, then perhaps he thinks of me as dead to him and no longer his son. Yet the reaction of the father says exactly and entirely the opposite.
The father saw his son while he was still a long way off and he ran. He couldn’t wait to embrace his son. Still the patriarch of his household, he ordered his servants to clothe him and to feed him and to rejoice with him over the return of this lost son. His son. In the father’s mind, his son’s broken fellowship evoked fear that his son had died. Now with the fellowship restored, the truth that his son was indeed still alive was realized. His lost son was now found. And he rejoiced along with all of his servants.
How often are we like the son thinking that if we just return and serve, we can re-earn the Father’s mercy? How much more joyous should we be when we return and discover that the Father still calls us His child? As all three of these stories testify: proximity does not dictate possession. The lost sheep still belonged to the shepherd. The lost coin still belonged to the woman. And the lost son was still the child of the Father.
Three other items to point out about the father’s response to his son’s return and the parallel to the Father’s expectation of us, the church:
- “Bring QUICKLY the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand.” – Without hesitation, cover the shame of his filth from lying in the pigpen. In the same way, forgive the wayward brother or sister who has returned to the family and welcome them home.
- “…and put shoes on his feet.” – Make it easier to for him to walk upon the rocky road of redemption, even if his feet are still covered in mud. In the same way, have mercy upon the wayward brother and sister who has returned to the family and help them to walk anew in the light of mercy.
- “bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” – Feed him so that he can renew his strength. In the same way, feed the wayward brother or sister who has returned upon the Word of God in a manner that will renew their strength in the Word, as opposed to offering words of judgement.
Perhaps you are still “sleeping in the pigpen” wondering if the Father will welcome you home. The truth is, the Father’s eyes are forever looking down the road anxiously waiting for you to “come to your senses.” He will run to you, embrace you, and still call you His child. He’s waiting for an excuse to throw a party to celebrate your return. And what more cause for celebration is the return of a child long left for dead to the world. You are more valuable than a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost baseball mitt. You are a child of the Father, and that makes all the difference in the world.