"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
That just might be my favorite verse in all of Scripture. It reveals the heart of God to me in a way that brings me to my knees in gratitude and awe. It gives me courage to return to my Father, time after time, without fear of rejection. It cuts right to my soul with the wonder of God’s abiding love.
See him. The prodigal’s father is not indifferent to his son’s absence. He hasn’t written him off in anger or disapproval. No, the image that comes to my mind is one of a sad and tearful parent, praying and pleading for the safe return of a beloved child. A father pacing the floor, staying up all night wondering and worrying, willing to give anything, to do anything, to have his child back in his arms.
“But while he was still a long way off…” Do you know what that means? The Father was actively looking for this wayward son, constantly searching as far down the road as he could see, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of him. He wanted nothing more than to see him coming down the road, returning home. He was so anxious to have him back; he spent every moment out looking…
And when he caught sight of him, he could not wait for his son to reach the front door – he had to run out to meet him! Nothing else mattered except finally having his lost son back in his embrace. He’s not playing dumb – He knows quite well the many sins the son has committed, but his heart is full of compassion and love for him. The son is hungry and beaten down and ashamed, and expecting a sound lashing. He expects to be disowned. He knows he has sinned and does not deserve his father’s forgiveness. He comes home with his head bowed down and braces for the worst.
He receives the unimaginable. His father is so giddy with joy and relief he can barely get the words out fast enough. “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:22-24
“But, Father, wait… how can you say this when you know what I’ve done to you? I don’t deserve to be called your son…”
“Child, don’t you know how I’ve longed for you since you’ve been gone? Don’t you realize how my heart has broken? Do you not know the sadness I have endured? How is it you do not understand how much I love you? There is nothing I wouldn’t give – indeed, there is nothing I have not already given. You are my child, now and forever, and my heart’s passion is for you. Whatever you have done is forgiven. Come home. Live with me again. I cannot bear to lose you.”
This is the Father’s heart for each one of us. This is His heart for each child who has gone astray, who has rejected Him, who has refused His love. He sits – on the front porch if you will – waiting, watching, and longing… longing to see the prodigal from far off, walking down the road toward home. That first step on our part sends Him running! Running out to meet us with arms outstretched, tears of joy streaming down His face. “You’re home! You’re alive! I’ve missed you so!”
This is His heart for each of us every time we fail. For every misstep, every selfish choice, every act of willful disobedience, He wants to run to us with compassion and embrace us again in His love. Our humble confession, “Father, I have sinned against you,” causes Him to rejoice and celebrate! In my mind’s eye I see Him pick me right up off my feet and swing me around in His arms, laughing out loud and squeezing me tight – just the way a Daddy does with a young child He loves.
It’s an image that makes me want to run to Him over and over and over, and causes me such merciful grief when I know I have fallen. It strengthens my resolve to turn away from sin and follow Him faithfully, for how can I not be overcome with gratitude? How can I possibly refuse to return such amazing love? I must do all I can to love and serve Him, though I know I will fail, and when I do, I’ll get up and start walking toward home. I know Who’s there, eager to scoop me up.
How great is His love for us, and how broken is His heart when we wander off and reject Him. Yet we must never forget that He waits for us, and searches for us, and sees us while we are still a long way off. He runs to us filled with compassion, eager to forgive and be reunited. Be not afraid to make that walk home… it is a short road for the Father rushes out to meet you, and all of heaven rejoices! (Luke 15:7)
To all the loving fathers, especially my own, who show us our Heavenly Father’s love in the flesh, thank you. Happy Father’s Day to you and to all the faithful priests and bishops who show us the Father’s love through their lives poured out for us. Bless you and Thank you!