The parable of the lost son is one that I have known my whole life. Growing up in church, it was a part of the children’s curriculum each year. I have read it repeatedly throughout the years and have seen multiple versions played out. Even Veggie Tales has their own take on the prodigal. Too often I dismiss these stories because of their familiarity, yet, God always has something new to show me.
Skimming through my Twitter feed last night, the verse above was posted by a beloved pastor, John Piper. I saw his name and enjoy reading what he has to say, so I read through the verse (above). My eyes stopped on four words, a long way off.
In the parable, the younger of two sons asked his father for his portion of the family inheritance. He ventured a long way off and spent it all forcing him to work for a farmer, feeding pigs. When he had lost everything, he realized he needed to return to his father. Convinced that his father would never accept him back as his son, he hoped his father would possibly hire him as a servant. The son didn’t grasp the value of the inheritance. It wasn’t a monetary or material inheritance, but one of mercy and grace. His father, upon seeing his beloved son, a long way off, was already prepared to bestow the true inheritance on his son upon his return. After being met with a forgiving embrace, the father proceeded to dress his lost son in the finest robes and shoes, then prepared a party to welcome him home. None of which the son deserved, which is the true value of his inheritance.
The older son had also been given his portion of the inheritance but chose to remain with his father. Enraged and embittered that his father would show mercy and grace through majestic robes and a party, he told his father: “All of these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Could it be that the older son was also a long way off? He too had missed the value of his inheritance. Bitterness had taken root years ago and had festered, causing him to explode at this moment.
Like the older son, I have found that I have been a long way off from God without even realizing it. I can get caught in the “busy-ness” of the work of the church. I can become over-involved volunteering at or attending every church function, and yet be a long way off from God. I find myself thinking I am doing all of the right things. I know I am doing good things, but really I am doing a lot of work and leaving out the relationship. I find myself “slaving away” for God, thinking I am being obedient.
What comfort it is that our Heavenly Father sees us when we are a long way off. He is filled with compassion for us. He can not wait to embrace us.
When the older son angrily approaches his father, he responds in Luke 15:32, “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found.” The father doesn’t care what lead his son to death, but the fact that he is alive again. Nor does it matter how he got lost, but that he is now found.
His Amazing Grace brings us back, over and over, even when we are a long way off.