A father had two sons, and one of his sons came to him and said, “Dad, I have been thinking it’s time for me to leave and find myself. I need to figure out who I am and make my own fortune, my own way in the world. So, what I would like is for you to give me my share of your estate. I will take it now and be on my way.” Remarkably, the father obliged his son’s request and off he went to make his own way.
There were many distractions for a young man on his own with a pocket full of money, and it wasn’t long until the son found himself neck deep in wine, women and song. This kind of lifestyle is not without its hazards, and in short order the son had spent everything he had. Embarrassed by squandering his inheritance, his pride would not allow him to return home and instead he looked for work. He found a job tending pigs. It was not a glamorous position for a good Jewish boy, but he was desperate. Things were so rough and he found himself coveting the pods and other assorted waste being fed to the pigs in his care – this was a wake-up call.
He knew what he had to do. With his pride long since lost in the pig business, he dragged his sorry “hind-parts” home, back to his father and brother. He wasn’t looking forward to facing his father whom he had hurt and dishonored, but he thought if he could throw himself on the mercy of his father, he might be taken back as a servant. Regardless, he knew it was better than the mess he had made of his life.
The son’s departure had not been easy on the father. To say his heart was broken would be an understatement. Despite the hurt, the insult and the longing for his absent son, the father often found himself looking off down the road his son had left on. On some level, he was desperately hoping that one day, he would see his son return home. One day, the father was sitting on the porch and he found himself once more gazing down the road; his thoughts turned to his son.
As he sat watching, a silhouette appeared on the road coming towards the house. The father squinted to see if he could discern who it was that was coming for an unexpected visit. As his eyes adjusted, his heart leapt – it was his son!
The father sprung to his feet as he called out to those in his house, “He’s back! My son has returned!” With that, he bolted from the porch, as only an old man can do, running towards his son. The son saw his father running towards him. His heart rejoiced because he was home, but he was also full of shame and trepidation about how he would be received. Would he be received or told to leave? Would he get a lecture? Would his Dad still love him? Regardless, he had hoped he would be able to secure a position as a household servant.
As his father approached, his heart raced and began to pound. The father was within steps of the son and the son called out the appeal he had crafted with every step back to his home. “Father! I am so, so sorry! I have dishonored you! I have taken advantage of you and thought I could do it on my own and didn’t need you. He pleaded “Please forgive me, please … just let me be a servant in your house!”
The father, as if he had heard none of it, with arms wide open embraced his son with a well overdue and loving hug. He kissed his son repeatedly. He was overjoyed that he was home. The son tried to say his speech again but his father was so overcome with joy that he spoke over him to his servants asking for clean clothes, rings and orders to kill the fatted calf. They were going to have a party!
The father, with his arm around the son, walked back to the house where the son went to get cleaned up. The father stood on the porch grinning from ear to ear. The older son joined his father and asked, “Is it true? Has the reprobate son returned?” “He has returned, my precious son has returned,” he beamed. “I don’t understand how you can be so happy,” the older brother scowled. “You have heard of his revolting escapades and how he squandered everything you gave him. Wasted it!”
“I know,” said the father, the gleam not reduced by a single lumen.
“I also have heard from the servants that you are throwing a homecoming celebration. You can’t be serious?” the brother said bitterly.
“Oh I am serious! This will be the party of the century!” said the father.
“You have lost it, old man! You are absolutely crazy! This punk has totally disgraced you, our family name and has ruined his life, and you are throwing a party? Nuts, crackers!”
“Maybe so,” said the father, “maybe so,” the grin not leaving his face.
The brother shook his head. “Dad … I just don’t get it. After all he has done, all the pain and embarrassment you throw him a party when he returns home in disgrace? What about me, dad? I have stayed by your side, done what you wanted, served you, honored you and not once did you throw a party like this for me.”
The father turned and faced his son with compassion in his eyes. “Son, it is so true, you have been a great son in every way. I have always been so proud of you! I am a little sad though. I’m sad that you don’t get it. You are my son and have access to everything I have – the food, the clothes, the jewelry, everything and it seems now you have lived like you are a beggar!”
The brother protested but the Father continued, “It’s all yours and always has been, but you live like it isn’t. You never embraced your place in my household. It is a poor man indeed who has access to all the goodness of his father’s house and doesn’t realize it. Your poverty is exposed by your jealousy and insecurity in my love and that you would try to keep your brother out. Receive it freely and share it freely, in this you will be truly rich. I love you, son. I couldn’t love you anymore than I do right now, but your brother … he was lost and now he is found. He was dead and now he is alive.”
[From my book, “Becoming Love. Avoiding Common Forms of Christian Insanity”]