20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
The young man in Jesus’ story had come to his senses in the pig-pens of the far off land, and had decided to return to his father, to home. He may have joined a caravan as a wealthy young man on going to the foreign land, but returning, he had to walk many miles. He had lots of time to rehearse his speech. He would confess – he would acknowledge his sin before heaven and his father – he would ask his father just to let him be a hired hand, for he was not worthy to be called his son. But he did not know the extent of the Father’s love – all this time, he has been watching the road, waiting for his son to return, grieving over his loss. He spots the boy on the road far away, and he runs to greet him, to throw his arms around him!
A child once drew a picture of this story in Sunday School. When the teacher looked at the picture, he asked, what is this – it looks sort of like a shoe? And the child replied, “That is the father’s shoe; he ran so fast he lost his shoe.”
The Father throws his arms around his son, and calls to the servants to bring a robe, and a ring, and sandals for his feet – and to prepare for a great party, a celebration. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
If the first part of the story was about the “Prodigal Son”, as we call him, then this part is about the Father. This father behaves oddly for a day in which patriarchy was the standard. The young man had, indeed, sinned against him – what he had done could have been seen as a major affront. It would have been a generous gesture for him to allow the young man to work for him, at least until he proved himself trustworthy. But this father is eager to welcome the young man back, generous in his welcoming, and then calls in all the neighbors for a great party to welcome him home.
This Father represented The Father, God. This parable falls in line with the first two about finding – there is celebration over the found. Jesus says here that God himself welcomes the lost, that he is the sort of Father who will run to greet the returning one, who will welcome him with open arms, who will celebrate with all of heaven the return of the one who is lost.
All of us at some time find ourselves in the mud of the pig pen of a foreign land, having offended God in some way. But all we have to do is “turn around” (the word “repent” means to turn around) and come home to God’s waiting arms!