We all know the story, and my bet is that at one time or another we have all acted it out in our life. We have been that son or daughter who has squandered our inheritance away in dissolute living. We have been the envious and sullen elder sibling, resentful of the attention lavished on the returned prodigal. Perhaps we have even been the loving and generous parent spending our time hoping against hope and scanning the horizon for the return of the one who was thought to be lost. Perhaps at different times we have been different characters in the parable. Perhaps we have even been all three at the same time.
But the parable isn’t just about us. It is not just about how we do or do not squander our life. It is not about the resentments and grudges we bear against those with whom we live and work. It is not just about how on some occasions we can find ourselves surprisingly generous and forgiving. The parable is also about God and perhaps says more about God than it does about us.
For the God portrayed in the Parable is not a jealous, vengeful, angry God but a generous, forgiving and loving one. The God of the Parable is a God who is prepared to spend an eternity scanning the horizon waiting for us to come to our senses and return. The God of the Parable is a God who is prepared to wash us clean and vest us with dignity. The God of the Parable is a God who is prepared forget all that is past and place on our finger a sign of covenanted love and betrothal. The God of the Parable is a God who is prepared to celebrate and dance the night away in joy for our return.
The Parable says a lot about who we are and how far we have sometimes fallen, even to the point of degrading ourselves. The Parable says a lot about the grudges we bear and how they poison our relationships. The parable says a lot about our potential to be generous, forgiving and loving. But it says much more about God and God’s passionate desire to forgive us, embrace us and welcome us home.
Lent is a time of sober reflection about who and what we are. But it is also a time to discover once again who God is and how very much God loves you. So no matter where you find yourself today, remember there is a robe of dignity, a ring of covenanted love and a feast awaiting you in the heart of God. All you have to do is take the first small step in the journey home.
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