Have you ever taken a walk on the wild side? Maybe you told your mom and dad you were sleeping over at Susie’s house when in truth you were shacking up with Tony at a flea-bag motel. Maybe you got caught with a few doobies by the local cop and you gave him the “fun” he wanted in exchange for forgetting about it. Maybe you lied about the new boots you shoplifted and told your husband you did some babysitting for the money.
Was that walk on the wild side more like a trip through hell? You got involved in sex for pay to cover your college expenses. You stole your grandmother’s diamond ring to cover a drug debt. You lied to your spouse about the perfumed shirt collar after the office party. You kept your mistress on the other side of town while claiming to be working many hours of overtime at the office. You spent your entire bank account on a weekend of gambling at the casino and your wife did not have money for the baby’s formula.
Or perhaps you devoted your youth and your money to an addiction? Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, sex? You lied, cheated, stole, murdered. You made your family wish that you were never born. You had no friends other than drunks and druggies. After awhile they got sick of you too. Is that your story?
Years ago a rich landowner had two sons of whom he was very proud. The elder son was industrious, loyal, beloved by family and friends alike. The younger son was a playboy, not as diligent, and somewhat devious . He heard of a country nearby where life was pleasant, where men lounged by the poolside sipping fine tasting margaritas served by voluptuous maidens….naked maidens.
He schemed a plan to move to that country to live the good life. One fine morning, the son approached his father saying, “Dad, half of your estate will be mine when you pass on. Would you consider giving it to me now so that I can relocate to this great little country I’ve been reading about and build my own empire?”
Now, Dad was no country bumpkin. He knew what his son was planning but loved him greatly and agreed to do as he was asked. The son departed for his future amidst tears in the household and a father deeply grieved. He soon arrived at his destination and began the life of leisure he desired. The pool, the maidens, the drinking all led him to believe he had undoubtedly found utopia.
Within a few years the money was depleted. He looked for a job, but his reputation as a sluggard and a liar preceded him and there were no good jobs befitting the son of a wealthy landowner. His last desperate hope was at the slaughterhouse cleaning out pig pens. The good-hearted owner hired him and the young man worked very hard for minimum wages. His desperation grew and he could not afford even a meal at the local MickeyD’s on the corner where he lived. So he shared with the hogs the slop which was fed to them daily.
After several months living this way, the young wayward son feared that he would die in this condition. “I am the son of a wealthy landowner. Why am I living this way? I will go back home, throw myself at my father’s feet and beg forgiveness asking only that he keep me as one of the household servants.”
And so he did this.
Sitting on his long, wide front porch, the father spied his son approaching from many miles away. “Behold, my long-lost son is coming home, he is returning from the far country.”
He instructed the head chef to prepare a luxurious meal of all the son’s favorite foods, he instructed the tailor to lay out the finest robes and slippers in the household, and he told his social assistant to invite all the townspeople for a week-long party with enough food and wine for a week of festivities
And then he ran down the lane winding to the house, beheld his unshaven, dirty, smelly son and embraced him with hugs and kisses saying, “My son, I have been with you always in the far country and I have never stopped loving you.”
The young prodigal was flabbergasted. His father should be angry and ready to cast him in the local hoosegow in chains for what had happened. The inheritance had been wasted on partying and loose women, the family reputation had been disgraced and yet, he was received as a prince, a man of honor.
The young son bathed in fine perfumed waters, put on the finest robes in the house and sat down to enjoy the homecoming with the best wine and food the household could provide. It was a joyous celebration in Father’s house.
Okay, most of you know this story from the book of Luke. We also know that the elder son who had stayed at home, tended to his father’s business, lived a life of moderation and responsibility threw quite a hissy fit over his fathers magnanimous reception for the philandering younger brother. He felt that somehow he was owed a greater portion of the father’s love because he had crossed every t and dotted every i in his life of obedience.
We are all prodigal sons. Not because of the trek to the far country, but rather, because we underestimate the vastness and depth of the Father’s love for us. That love is not dependent on our return from the far country or our contrition. It does not require bowed heads, vows of repentance, or promises of good works. The love which exceeds all human understanding and comprehension is simply there….always. Don’t have to perform tricks, jump through hoops, or repeat endless oaths to receive it.
That love goes wherever I go. It went with me through my 17 years of addiction to alcohol and wrapped me in its protection when I was too numbed and senseless to protect myself. It kept me from suicide when suicide appeared to be the most intelligent decision to make. It does not abandon me when I behave like a fool or when I forget to pray. It is simply there….always.
Certainly, the parable of the prodigal tells me of the futility in chasing worldly pleasure and of the futility in seeking perfection trying to gain the father’s approval. But, at its core the story teaches unconditional, unending, ever-present, unquestioning love for me flowing from the One dwelling within as Lord of my life.
I agree with King David in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
That pool of the Father’s love is bottomless and I can give it away freely forever. I didn’t earn it; I don’t deserve it; and I can’t lose it. Never.