“Not days later, the young son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything a severe famine arose in that that country, and he began to be in need.” (Luke 15:13-14)
I’ve read this parable more times that I can even count- and I have to admit that I have thought about this younger son, “What a jerk. His Father is so generous and loving- how could he break his heart like that? How could he leave his father’s house when he had everything at his father’s side? Not only that, but how could he just squander the gifts? He wasn’t wise with what he was given- there is no more inheritance to be had. It’s totally game over for him.”
There are moments where I’m face to face with the reality that I am this snot- nosed jerk of a son. I take the beautiful gifts of grace, peace, and joy- that have been lavished on me- by a loving, doting Father and I run to the far country in my heart- far away from Him. I throw away those beautiful, satisfying gifts for things that drain me of any semblance of what once was. I let my mind and my heart “have at it” with “reckless living”. Just like for the young son, a severe famine arises in the country– of my heart. Suddenly, there is nothing left for me to feast on- the party has ended. It grows very dark- the joy is gone to the point that I don’t even remember it’s sweet taste. In fact, everything has lost it’s taste, including the things that I enjoyed which got me to this dark place to begin with.
“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country who sent him into his fields to feed pigs, And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:15-16)
I look down at the pods in my hands, knowing full well that they are completely indigestible. I realize that I can no longer sustain myself here. Like the hunger pangs in the stomach of the prodigal, my soul begins to groan. I’ve spent every ounce of energy feasting until there’s nothing left and I realize that all I’ve done is starved and dehydrated my own heart– somehow, I’m incredibly empty. I now stand in a far away desert wondering how I’ll ever get out when I don’t have the tiniest bit of energy to move from this place. Which way is home? I’ve lost all sense of direction and the feeling of “lostness” is bearing down on me. The desires that once made me feel alive in this place now have turned into the desire to give up completely. The constant whisper of lies begin to wash over my thoughts. “Perhaps I should let the darkness overtake me- I deserve to be swallowed up in the shame of the choices that I’ve made. No way can I turn back to my Father now. I’ve wandered too far.” So right there, I collapse, clutching the pods to my chest, as the tears of hopelessness begin to streak down my dust covered face.
“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 in hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-19)
Memories of peace, joy, and rest begin to hit my thoughts, one by one, like big startling raindrops in the midst of a drought. “Oh, remember what it was like to sit and rest my head on my Father’s chest- To tell him of all of my troubles, to be met with grace and understanding? That freedom that I had at his side, to tell him anything that I want to, just because I could! To be held by His grace and know that I am loved and welcomed. I miss it. I miss Him. I suddenly remember the sweet taste of joy- though it is faint. I begin to long to return home but I think to myself, “I can’t go like this, with my dust and tear stained face, covered in the shame of where I’ve been.” I try to clean myself up, I rehearse the vows in my heart. “I’ll start by reading a little bit of the bible before I approach him. Maybe listen to some Christian music, so that my head feels clear or perhaps it will make me forget some of the terrible things? Perhaps I will seem less dirty to Him? Either way I will feel less dirty in his presence. I’ll earn back the right to be his child again. It will take time to get back into his good graces, but it will be worth the work to be out of this darkness and to taste freedom once more.”
“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.” (Luke 15:20-21)
To my surprise, the moment that I turn around to head toward my Father’s home, I run face first into His chest- He was so eager for my return and has been constantly scanning the horizon for my heart’s silhouette since my departure. I quickly begin to make my promises to never leave his side ever again. I sheepishly acknowledge that I am not worthy to even be at his feet at the moment because of all that I’ve squandered, because of all of the shame that I brought to him by throwing away his gift of grace for lesser things- ugh those shameful things. My face burns hot and I can’t bring myself to lift my eyes. I prepare myself for the scolding of the Law from Him. I brace myself for the pain of being held at arms length because I know that I have not only failed to prove my goodness, I’ve put my badness on display. He cups my face in His tender hands and kisses my stained cheeks with reminders of the gospel. He gave me grace knowing that I would squander it- but he also knew without a doubt that I would return by that same grace, because I am His.
“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 my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-24)
To my astonishment, there is no waiting period. There is no ceremonial cleansing to enter into his presence. There is no penance or list of good works to earn my way into his good graces. There is only the immediate embrace of my loving Heavenly Father. I come to realize, that there is no end to my inheritance. It will never run out- no matter how much of his grace I squander, it proves to be inexhaustible. God’s grace will always reach farther than my sin ever could- it seeks me out, finds me in the desert with pods in my hands, and it beckons me home. It doesn’t wait for me to prove my goodness once more before it hugs me and lets me back in. In fact, my Father won’t take my goodness as an offering at all- because that offering has already been paid, by my big brother. No, not the one sulking outside, angry at my Father for refusing to even speak of my sinful escapades- as if they never transpired to begin with. The other older brother- the perfect One. The one that is not ashamed of my behavior or resentful that he has to be “his brother’s keeper”.
“It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you….” (Isa 30:18)
That perfect big brother of mine, who’s not mentioned specifically in the story, is the one telling the parable, as the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. He explains the radical, outlandish, scandalous love of our heavenly Father to sinners while the pharisees were grumbling that he would dare to receive and dine with such people. (15:1) Our perfect, sinless big brother Jesus came to die for the prodigal- the squanderer of goodness- those of us who continually run to the far countries of sin. Because of him we stand completely clean and righteous- no matter what we’ve squandered- no matter how much reckless living we’ve done- in our hearts or otherwise. He embraces us, and puts his robe around us, and his ring on our finger and welcomes us home. No matter how far we run, or how long we run- He will keep leaving the 99 behind and go searching for our hearts on the horizon, and bring us back to himself. He does this because He loves us and He never wearies of our rescue.