Several years ago, I “rewrote” the famous parable known as The Prodigal Son. Here it is:
They say that “time heals all wounds.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I hope it is because I have wounded a lot of people in my life.
I am the so-called Prodigal Son whom Jesus spoke about in Luke 15. I guess I’ll always be remembered as a prodigal, but I feel that I am so much more than that now. Now, I understand grace, I have received mercy, and I am grateful for all I have. If only I had known all of that then. Back then, I just wanted out. Out from under my older brother’s shadow. Out from under my father’s roof and rules. Out from under the responsibility that came with being my father’s son.
I wanted – no, needed – to be free. Like a bird who refuses to be caged, I refused to be cooped up by other people’s rules and expectations. I wanted to make my own rules, live my own life, chart my own path. I wanted life to be a party, dude, instead of a series of duties to be performed. You can understand that, right?
So I did the unthinkable – the unimaginable. I went to my father and demanded that he give me my share of the estate, my inheritance. This was unheard of in my culture. My request was tantamount to me saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead and I can’t wait until you die so that I can get my money!” I really didn’t hate my father – I loved him – but I was young, selfish and impulsive, and I just could not wait to live life on my own terms. It was rebellion, I know, but isn’t that what being young is all about?
My father gave me my inheritance. I don’t know why he did, but at the time I didn’t care. I had cash in my hand and I was off. Look out world, here comes the Prodigal!
Man, those were wild times. Women, booze, gambling – you name it, I tried it. No rules, no expectations, no consequences (or so I thought). I was young, handsome, and strong. Not only did I believe that I would live forever; I also believed that my money would last forever. It didn’t.
I’m still amazed at how expensive bad decisions can be, and I’m not just talking financially. I had made friends with people who were as selfish as me, and when my money was gone so were my friends. When I needed help, no one was there for me. And why would they be? All we knew how to do was use each other; we didn’t care for each other.
Since you know my story, you’ve probably guessed that the low point in my life was working as a slop-feeder to a herd of pigs. But you’re wrong. The lowest point in my life was the moment I realized all that I had given up. I had a comfortable life back at home. I had friends that I had known since I was a kid. I had a father and a family who loved me. But I had turned my back on all of that! The question was, “Would they still love me if I went back home?”
And I wanted to go back so bad. I had been so foolish, so disrespectful, so arrogant. How could they take me back? I wouldn’t take back my son if he had treated me they way I had treated my father. But I had to try. Just as I wanted out of my father’s house a few years ago, I wanted out of this lame excuse for a life that I had made for myself. Out from under the weight of my sin. Out from under the loneliness that gripped my heart. Out from under the arrogant pride that had caused me to forsake everything and everyone I ever knew and loved. Hey, I couldn’t even wait to see my brother again.
That walk back to my father’s house was the loneliest walk I have ever taken; yet, it produced an image that I will never forget. As I got closer to the road leading to the house, I looked up to see an old man running towards me. I stopped walking so that I could get a better look at who the man was, and to my astonishment it was my father. My father was running toward me!
In my culture, elderly men don’t run – it’s undignified. But my father didn’t care. He didn’t care how it looked to others. He didn’t care that I had been so disrespectful to him. He didn’t care that I had caused him so much pain. All he cared about was that his beloved child had come back home. My father didn’t see a prodigal; he saw a prayer that had been answered.
At that moment, I came to know grace. There was nothing I could do to atone for my sin, to make up for the pain I had caused, or to earn back my father’s trust and love. But my father gave it to me anyway. He bestowed upon me all the privileges of being his child, and he held nothing back. As you know, this didn’t make sense to my brother. My brother thought that grace was earned by obeying all the rules, performing all the tasks, and never doubting the father. But I know different. The grace of my father is more about who he is than what I do. I know that I am not worthy to be my father’s son, and that makes me all the more grateful for what he has done for me.
But there’s one more thing I want you to know – one more part of my story that I will always remember, and I want you to remember this too. Do you remember the words that got the reunion party started? My father said, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again?” Those words haunt me to this day, but in a good way.
I don’t know if my father realizes how true those words are. I was dead. Not in the physical sense, of course, but this kind of death was even worse. I had made myself dead to the people who loved me. I was dead to the things that bring life to our lives. I was dead to joy, peace, beauty, purpose, kindness. I was dead inside. I didn’t feel anything, didn’t love anyone but myself. I didn’t have anything or anyone to live for – and I wished I were dead. That’s what living in sin does to a person – I know that now.
I was dead. But now I am alive! I am alive to the blessings around me, alive to the people around me, alive to the God who did not give up on me. I am alive because of the grace, mercy, and love of my father. Never again will I rebel. Never again will I leave my father’s house. Never again will I choose sin over sonship. I was dead – but now I know exactly what I am living for. I am the Prodigal Son redeemed and I rest in the peace of the Father.