One of my favorite parables in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. I’m not sure why I love this story so much, but it gives me so much hope. In it I see the love of a Father, our Father in heaven, who loves us unconditionally and waits for us to return to Him. I see a Father who has given us everything through Jesus, even if we don’t recognize it, as the older brother did not. I see compassion and mercy, no matter how much we have a bad attitude towards the Lord. But I also see the power of redemption when we return to God Almighty and confess our sins to Him. This parable is so rich with meaning and in my opinion filled with mysteries that we could probably spend a lifetime contemplating and never get to the bottom of. It expresses so wonderfully how much God loves the world, how much He loves His creation and that His one and only desire is for reconciliation and even more important, that He Himself has provided the way for that reconciliation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only son. We are all sinners. We all have fallen short and acted like the prodigal, spat in God’s face and told Him we could manage our own lives, thank you very much. Even those of us who hang out in the church, often act like the older brother, feeling self righteous and superior because we’ve always gone to church. Simply put, we all need a savior!
Perhaps you’ve never read this story, or it’s been a long time since you did. Jesus tells us about two brothers in the Gospel of Luke. The older one stays at home and helps with the family business, but the younger one hates his father so much that he tells his dad that he wants his inheritance now, even while dad is still alive! An inheritance is for after someone’s dead, certainly not while they are still alive, so the implications of that are troubling to me. The astonishing thing is that his father says yes, divides up his property and gives the younger son his share. The younger son takes all of it and goes off to another country and wastes all of it, and I mean all of it. “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” (Vs. 13) Not only has he wasted every dime, but a severe famine arose and there was nothing to eat for him. He goes and works in a pig farm feeding pigs. If you know anything about the Jewish people, you will know that they don’t have anything to do with pigs. In other words, the younger son hits, what in modern language we would call, rock bottom. But even as he feeds the pigs, he still has nothing to eat. And this is where it gets interesting for me. In verse 17, Jesus tells us that something changed in this young man’s heart and mind. While he was starving and feeding the pigs in the field, it says, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Luke 15:17-19
The story continues with his return: “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
There are two things that really stand out to me in this story that I want to focus on today. The first is the phrase “when he came to himself”. For years that expression has puzzled me. Although I understood that it caused him to go home and repent for his sin, I never fully understood what exactly happened in this young man’s heart and mind. Recently I believe I had what you could call a light bulb moment. I think that what happened is something we call self awareness. He became aware of his own sin. He saw himself through the eyes of God, realized the horror of what he had done to his father, and went home. He is so ashamed of his actions that he actually tells his dad “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son”. Self awareness seems to be a characteristic that is sadly lacking in our society. We hear phrases like “you are enough”. Actually, none of us are enough. We all fall short and need to repent, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23.
So why does this stand out to me so much? Two reasons. First, if you have a prodigal in your life, you will know how to pray more accurately for them. Pray that they would become self aware of their own sin and return to the Father. Second, if you are a prodigal and you have no self awareness of your own sin, you need to realize that you are dead in your sins and lost, as the father in this story so succinctly says about his younger son. Those are not easy words to hear, but I would suggest that they are easier to hear while you are still alive and have the power to change.
But I also want to point out the father’s reaction and the depth of his emotion and compassion that he held toward his younger son. Remember, this is Jesus telling us the story. He is describing how the Father, our Father in heaven feels when we walk away from Him. Jesus tells us “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” In other words, the father was watching the horizon, scanning the horizon and saw him far in the distance, even as he was making his way home. Not only did the father have compassion, he ran to him. The father ran and met him and kissed him. If you have a prodigal in your life, you will understand the agony of scanning the horizon, searching for that lost child, waiting and praying and hoping for their return. And you will also understand the joy that the father felt when he saw his son come home.
If you are that prodigal, just know that there is not only a Father in heaven, watching and waiting for you to come to yourself, and recognize your sin, there are no doubt others, watching and waiting, hoping and praying, that you will come home. You are loved. It’s time to come home.