Most people know the story of the prodigal son from the fifteenth chapter of Luke.
If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve likely heard a sermon or two about it. Every pastor emphasizes a different part of the story – from the brother’s ungrateful reaction, to the prodigal’s understanding of how deep in the gutter he’d fallen, to the father’s welcoming embrace upon the prodigal’s return.
I heard a reference to the prodigal son the other day, and something clicked for me. Despite the dozen or so sermons I’ve heard about Luke 15:11-32, it became fresh to me again, and I saw something in the story I hadn’t noticed before.
The parable of the prodigal son means something different to everybody, because we each identify with a different character in that story. So many times, though, I’ve heard the prodigal talked about in big terms. After all, he was taking care of swine and longed for food as good as the pigs were fed. Which, if you’ve ever been around pigs… Well, let’s just say they don’t eat all that well.
I’ve heard pastors take the prodigal and try to talk about him in modern terms. Drug dealer, prostitute, homeless and strung out while scavenging for food in dumpsters. The worst of the worst. A man fallen so low that he aspired to be the underside of the bottom of the dregs of society.
When someone is in the worst possible position that they can be, and they return to the faith of their childhood, we cheer and call them a prodigal. We extol the story of their Heavenly Father rushing to embrace them. We celebrate their redemption.
The thing is… We’re all prodigals.
Not a day goes by that I don’t – in some way, shape, or form – turn my back on God. Even if it’s only for a second. I fail every day. I plow ahead into decision-making without first consulting my Father. I pass judgment on someone who says something that strikes me the wrong way. I get frustrated with slow drivers and irritated with fast ones.
Those are all such minor examples, but that’s the point.
Because sin, no matter how big or how small, separates us from God.
And that separation makes each and every one of us a prodigal.
So when we turn away from God – even if it’s not willful, even if it’s not in the basest form of debauchery, even if it’s only for a second – we all have the opportunity to repent, to turn back to Him, and to run back into His arms. Because He is there like the prodigal son’s father, eager to embrace us and welcome us back into the fold. He is waiting for us and watching eagerly for our return.
Every single time.
Whether we’ve walked away for a moment, a month, or infinitely longer.
“…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
God is always ready to welcome us back and to celebrate our return home.
And that’s what home is, at least to me. Being in the will of God, experiencing the presence of God, and deeply breathing in the love of God.
If you’ve wandered away, whether by a millimeter or a mile, I hope you’ll pick today to walk the path of a prodigal and to return home with me.
Have you ever been far enough away from God that you felt like you had to look over your shoulder to see Him? What brought you back to Him? How did it feel to come home?
You can find Heather online at the links below in her bio, and you can find out what else she’s written here.