I hope you are enjoying the week as much as we are at the West Huntsville church. It’s Family Bible Week and the excitement is over the top. Kids are learning and adults are, too. My skit this year is a re-enactment of the parable we call “The Prodigal Son” so I’ve been thinking lots about that boy who chose the money over the security and about how we, enamored by the world’s cheap glitter, often do the same. I’ve thought about how you could never have talked him out of going to that far country when the silver was jingling in his pockets and how that you could never have talked him out of returning home when it was gone. The difference, of course, was all in that moment when he “came to himself”—you know, the pig pen moment. The pig pen moment is a moment of the heart (called repentance) and we all have to have it before we can come to (or come back to) the Father. I hope you have had your pig pen moment. I have had several.
I’ve thought about the Father, too—how he released the son to go and waste his substance. I’ve pondered how many people I know who are in the faraway country today because God never makes anyone serve him. He never keeps you against your will. I’ve thought about how you can be a prodigal even on the church pew every Sunday. If your heart is in the pig pen, then sitting on the pew doesn’t make you any less filthy. Teens get to choose between the Father’s house and the pig pen even if parents are forcing them to be in the worship assemblies, because the pig pen is all about the heart. God releases us. He allows us to choose. It’s free moral agency and it’s what sets us apart from any other creatures He made way back on the sixth day of history.
I picture Him as he rested on the porch. I do not believe it was an accident that he saw His son “a great way off.” He was watching and anxiously waiting for him. But His work was done. He had a place—a home—ready and waiting for the homecoming of the one that was astray. He did not go looking for the Son. It was the “seventh day” for this Father. Everything he had done for the son was good. It was all up to the boy now. Of course, I am the boy in the spiritual analogy. There is nothing more God can do to bring me home. The choices and faith’s response of obedience are all up to me.
The best part is that the Father ran. That’s right. When the boy came down the path, haggard, dirty, lean and lost, the Father ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. God runs. When a prodigal turns his heart from subversion to servanthood, God runs to forgive.
He rejoiced, too. My Father makes merry. What a tragedy when all things are ready for a feast, but I keep the long-suffering One waiting on the porch.
He reclaimed. Notice that the son asked to be a servant. That position is much more than he deserved. But the Father restored him to the position he claimed before he ever left the house. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
He reconciled. You have to love the way the Father approached the elder brother whose body was in the back yard, but whose heart was in the pig pen. The Father wanted the elder brother to be pure, not only in practice but in his heart. He wanted the love of the Father to be in that boy. It’s interesting that John tells us that if we love the world (like the prodigal was doing in the faraway country), the love of the Father is not in us. (I John 2:15). But the same passage tells us that if we fail to love our brethren, we are still stumbling in the darkness (I John 2:9). How many nights did the prodigal spend stumbling around in the world without the love of the Father in his heart? How many nights did the elder brother spend stumbling around in the Father’s house of light because he failed to love his brother?
I just love this story. It is my favorite parable of the Lord. I have been the prodigal. I have been the elder brother. It’s interesting that our Lord left the “jury out” on the heart of the elder brother. Perhaps the “pig pen moment” is harder if you’ve never physically left the Father’s house. But may I always remember that I can stumble in the darkness even in His house. I can be in dire need of “coming to myself” even when I am physically in the presence of the family of God.
I just love this story.