Have you ever wanted to run away from home? As children or teenagers, many of us perhaps had that feeling now and then. Some did not, but many of us wanted to escape something and considered just running away and beginning again. Some people have done just that. There was a story in the news last year about a young woman who attended Texas A&M University that had disappeared. She had been home for a visit and was supposed to return to the college campus but she suddenly vanished. A search went out for her but no one could find her. Everyone assumed she was dead. The young woman had actually run away from home. She had moved to Kentucky and got a job working at a Sam's Club Store. She used her real name and social security number but the authorities were never able to track her down. Finally, a tip led authorities to where she was living in Kentucky. She and her mother had had an argument over her grades and the young woman decided to just quit school and disappear and start life over. I guess she did not think that anyone cared about her but her mother did not give up. She continued to search for her long lost daughter until she had been found.
The parable that we call "The Prodigal Son" from Luke 15 is very familiar to most of us. It is about a son who decides that he is bored with his present life so she asks his father to give him all that is coming to him and he leaves determined to start a new life elsewhere. The father gives him his inheritance and watches him as he vanishes into the distance. The father most likely thought that he would never see his son again. The son went into a "far country" and wasted his money on "riotous living" (according to the King James Version) which means he had a never ending party. The only thing he did not think about was that when his money ran out, so would his friends. Everyone loved him when he could provide the party, but when he was a loser, no one wanted to be around him.
So, the runaway found work...feeding pigs, which was not a good job for a good Jewish boy but it was honest work. One day when he was watching those pigs slurping up the food he had brought them, he decided to "go back home". Technically, he had no home because he had given up all his rights when he asked his father to give him everything he had coming to him. The boy decided to just ask his father for work, to make him a slave and let him at least have a place to sleep and some decent food to eat. So, as the sun was setting in the west he made his way slowly back to where he used to live.
You would think that his father would have given up on the boy by now but he would stand out near the road each evening as the sun was beginning to set in hopes that he would see that familiar figure coming over the horizon. He had almost given up hope but suddenly on that day he saw that figure he was looking for, illuminated by the setting sun, coming down the road toward him. The father did a thing that good Jewish men of his time would never do....he ran...he lifted up his long robe and ran toward that wayward son. The boy must have been very surprised to see his distinguished dad running down the road toward him but he had time to ask for a job doing what all the other slaves would do that worked for his dad.
Before the boy could say anything else, the father grabbed him and held him and gave him the tightest hug he had ever received. He ordered his servants to bring a robe to replace his worn out rags, a ring that indicates his place in the family, and to begin a lavish party that would celebrate the return of the son whom he figured was dead by now. He could not believe his eyes and hugged his son again and again. The son sheepishly followed his father into the house and love was the order of the day.
Now, we know there is more to the story because there is another son who was not too happy for the return of his brother but we will stop at this point because we do not want to spoil the mood. The father in this story is filled with joy because he thought his youngest son had died and now he was alive and returned to the safety of his home. Just like the shepherd who searched for his sheep until it was found; and just like the woman who searched for her lost coin until it was located; the father in this parable did not give up until the son he thought he had lost had been found. The father in this story seems a lot like God, the Heavenly Father. A parent who never lost hope that the wayward child would come home.
Runaways leave for many reasons...boredom, conflict, anger, despair...but when they have sorted out things they usually go home. They fear the worst when they get the courage to return. The know they do not deserve anything but they hope that redemption and forgiveness await them when they get enough courage to ring the bell or knock on the door. Who knows what will happen when finally the runaway is met at the door of the home he/she left?
Forgiveness is the greatest gift that we can give anyone. It speaks of acceptance and tolerance and overlooking faults. It is not easy but it is essential. It is offered to others who do not deserve it. It is offered to others who have no right to receive it. It is offered to others because we too have received forgiveness and acceptance from a God who gave it freely even when we were not worthy of it. Who do you need to forgive today? Who has run away from your life in the past through anger and conflict? Who has been in the far country much too long and the reward of reunion with them would be the salve for your soul? What will it take for you to speak words of forgiveness and love to them? It may be much too much for you to offer, at least within your own power, but if you ask God for strength and courage it can happen, even for you and for them.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way..." (Isaiah 53:6)