Specifically, what it’s like to come home to our Father in heaven with no more qualifications than that we’ve made a mess of our own lives.
What would God say to us? What would his attitude be?
In one of Jesus’ most familiar parables (Luke 15: 11-32), the younger of two sons demands, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” It’s hard to overstate the edginess of this request. The Middle Eastern audience who first heard Jesus’ story must have been appalled. This Jewish boy has committed the ultimate sin.
In so many words he has said, “Father, drop dead. You’re no good to me alive. All I want from you is your money that will be mine when you’re gone. So, if you don’t mind, let’s pretend you’re gone now.” It’s hard to imagine a more painful or insulting injury to any parent.
With a breaking heart, the father realizes that his son has no desire to be in relationship with him. So he complies. He divides up the estate.
The boy takes off into the wide, wide world. According to the Bible this describes the relationship that all of us have with God. All of us have said, in one way or another, “Father, I wish you were dead. You crowd me. My life would be so much happier if you weren’t hovering over everything I think and say and do.”
What does God do when we relate to him like that? He says, “Go. Go out and see if life is really happier when you are out of relationship with me.”
Author H.J. Duffy remembers when his teenage son was so excited to try out his new surfboard that he plunged right into the breakers, ignoring the warning flags that had been posted for dangerous surf. Immediately the booming voice of the lifeguard rang out: “You are an inexperienced surfer. Return to shore.”
Humiliated, the boy returned. He asked the lifeguard how he knew he was a beginner. “That’s easy. You’ve got your wetsuit on backwards.”
God’s love is such that he doesn’t stand on the seashore of our lives and shout into a megaphone, “You are an inexperienced, completely ill-prepared rebel. Return home at once.” Incredibly, God lets us go.
At first things go brilliantly for the boy in Jesus’ story. He has the time of his life. But then he runs through all of his assets in “the far country.” As scholar Kenneth Bailey observes, his ATM card is suddenly rejected. His friends disappear. Jesus assigns to him the ultimate nightmare job for a Hebrew boy – feeding pigs.
The boy gradually “comes to his senses,” as Jesus puts it. He wakes up. He realizes how far away he is from where he started. He not only grasps in his head but he feels in his heart and his gut his separation from his father. He longs to go home.
But what will his dad do if he ever shows his pig-feeding face around town again?
That would be a no-brainer in first century Jewish society. The typical father would beat the living tar out of such a disrespectful son, as a warning to every other boy in the neighborhood. It would be a kind of community service beating.
But this boy wonders, in his heart of hearts: is there a possibility that my dad will take me back? He’s haunted by the last look that he saw on his father’s face.
He begins to formulate a plan. He will play Let’s Make a Deal. Certain that his relationship with his father is broken beyond repair, he rehearses a little speech. “Dad, I don’t even deserve a cot in the barn. I know I can’t be your son any more. Could I at least be one of your minimum wage workers?”
He leaves the distant country and begins walking in the direction of home, no doubt burdened by the thought of trying to clean his own slate for the rest of his life.
The last thing he suspects is that his own father, the one he has wounded, is about to clean that slate for him.
Luke 15:20 tells us, “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.”
The astonishing detail is that the father runs. Dignified gentlemen in the time of Jesus walked through their paces slowly. To run meant to show your ankles to the neighbors. To do that was to risk ridicule.
This Father could care less.
While we ourselves are still a long way off – even while we remain in our distant countries of doubt and anger and hopelessness – God the Father is waiting.
What is it like to go home?
God the Father will run to meet us.
— Authored by Glenn McDonald
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