“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20; NIV)
Good Sunday morning! I wake up to gray skies and a blanket of damp leaves covering my lawn. It’s been a surreal past few days, all of it coming to a head when I heard the news that a wayward family member was recently arrested for allegedly . . . robbing a bank. I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. The only time we ever hear from him is when he needs money, and once he has it, he’s gone again. He’s been walking the edge of this path for five or six years now. Still, I’m disappointed, because he won’t be able to wriggle himself out of this jam. He is most definitely going to prison, possibly serving an extended sentence.
“The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:12-13)
Since hearing the news, my family has been spinning on their heads, crying waterfall tears, making themselves sick with worry. My reaction (if you could even call it that) hasn’t been quite so dramatic. For the past several months, I’ve been training myself not to react with my emotions to thing that I know are in the Lord’s hands. I and my family and even a few prayer partners at church have been praying hard that he has a dramatic, soul-changing encounter with God, similar to Saul on the road to Damascus, or Jonah being swallowed by the whale (he’s spent all his time running from Him, we prayed that he would instead run smack into Him), and this just might be that encounter we’ve been praying for.
I hate that it means he might go to prison, possibly for a long time. This society wasn’t created for black men to be successful. They dangle a false promise of the “American Dream” in their faces, then throw them behind bars for the tiniest of infractions. Once tied up in the justice system, it’s so hard for them to break free. I know he’s a good kid. Deep down, he’s a softy. He breaks down and cries the second he gets in trouble. But this world, and the people he’s chosen to associate himself with has made him desperate. And desperate people do desperate things.
“So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:15-16)
But then I am reminded of the parable of the prodigal son. How he went out into the world and lost everything he had, even down to his own dignity and self-respect. With his tail firmly set between his legs, he travels back home to his father feeling shameful and unworthy.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-19)
But he isn’t met with judgement or ridicule. When his father sees him, he is filled with compassion. He runs to him, kisses and hugs him. He instructs the servants to kill the fattest calf. They were going have a feast to celebrate his son’s return home.
My unfortunate dear loved one is no saint. He’s made mistakes, he’s hurt a lot of people, including me. But when he does come home, even if it’s just for money, I welcome him in my arms. I forget everything he’s done and plant a wet one right on his cheek, because I’m happier to see him alive and breathing (for the longest time, I feared he was dead), and back home with his family. That’s how I’ll be when he gets out of jail, whenever that will be. I’ll welcome him home as if nothing’s happened. Because what’s more important is that he was lost, and now he’s found, and that is a cause for celebration.
“Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24)
This is how our Father in Heaven will react when we finally dedicate our lives back to Him. The Bible says that Heaven rejoices when just one person is saved (Luke 15:7; 15:10). Nobody’s perfect, and there’s no sense in trying to be because when you fall short, that failure will eat you alive. But God loves you anyway. We talk so much about wrath, fire, and damnation, but we don’t talk enough about His love. Jesus Christ died on the cross because God loves us. He rose from the grave on the third day because God loves us. His precious blood washed us free from sin because God loves us. I don’t know if you know this, but when you return to Him, there’s a party going on in Heaven, and it is LOUD.
And please don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother, who was jealous of the welcome his younger brother received; “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with, my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him” (Luke 15:29-30). Sometimes we as Christians don’t realize the treasures we already have in Christ. We get impatient in our prayer, and when we see someone, who hasn’t be saved for nearly as long as we have, get their heart’s desire, we cry out to God for our cut.
But remember that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10). God gave us salvation through Christ. He already loves you for your faith, your enthusiasm to do the work of ministry. Everything His has is already yours. Jesus says to the people, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Paul tells the Philippian church, “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God celebrated just has hard for you, whether you noticed it or not, and He doesn’t love anyone else any more than he loves you or I. So rejoice in your brother’s/sister’s coming home. Our family is expanding to greater sizes everyday.
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”