The Prodigal

He was covered in dirt. He knew also that he reeked from days of not bathing. The sun was so hot and his body ached from dehydration. He tripped over a rock and cried out as he fell face forward into the dirt. He was so weak and so very tired. How long ago had it been that he had rested comfortably in his father's home? How long since his belly was full with good food and drink? He stayed there a moment, face in the dirt. This is how I will approach him, he thought. Face down, in the dirt.  He knew there was no way his father would take him back into his home. How could he? He felt the familiar sting of self loathing just thinking about his recklessness. In its wake, as always, followed the shame. He pulled himself up to his knees and closed his eyes. The shame was so heavy he thought his heart might burst from its weight. He had done things he never thought possible. He had sinned in ways he could not even understand.

What was I thinking? 

He hadn't been thinking. He had been filled with pride and selfish desires. His own foolishness had driven him away from the only place he had been safe. Oh, and he had suffered for his folly. He saw in his mind the picture of himself eating with the pigs and humiliation coursed through him again. He had been reduced to eating with the pigs! He remembered the stench and his stomach rolled at the thought. He took a deep breath then and raised himself up on his feet. "I am a fool!"  he yelled into the empty desert around him.

He journeyed for many days, begging along the way for any morsel of food or drink he could get. He ate things he could barely swallow, but he did so with thankfulness for it gave him sustenance to finish his journey. He would collapse in the dirt at night from complete exhaustion, and rise again to face another day of near starvation and outrageous thirst. He spent the days berating himself for his choices until the regret and guilt settled in his bones. I will ask him to let me be a servant in his house, he thought. He knew his father would never take him back as a son. How could he? No, he had slandered his father and rejected his love with his choices and there was no way he would take back such a wayward son. Tears stung at the thought of never being called son again.

What had possessed him to walk away from the only thing that mattered? Now, not only was he left with no inheritance but he would have no family to call his own. He realized with perfect clarity now, that he had abandoned the one thing that mattered in this life: the safety of his father's arms.

The scenery became familiar as he drew closer to home and the dread began to rise from deep inside his soul at the thought of facing his father. The shame in him raged war as he neared the only place he had ever felt any real safety or love. People began to notice him as he walked along the path that led home. They just stopped and stared, some with judgement written on their faces. Others just turned away, not wanting to look on such a beggar. He kept his gaze straight ahead, though, as the familiar sight of his home came into view. He did not stop, even when he saw the outline of his father, standing in front of his home, speaking with a servant. His heart beat so hard, he thought his chest might split open from it.

Then his father looked up and saw him.

He stopped where he was, frozen in place by the gaze of his father on him. He closed his eyes, trying to gather his frail strength to stand against the thrashing that he knew was coming. Then he heard a strangled sound and he opened his eyes. His father was running toward him, but what was that look on his face? He did not look like a father running in anger or hate. He squinted hard to try and see the look on his father's face. Were those tears he saw streaking his father's cheeks? Surely not, he thought. Then he heard the words that would be seared on his heart forever.

"My son has come home! My son has come home!"

Realization swept over him, then. He realized that his father was running to greet him, crying out with joy, not anger. The shock of that sent him down on his knees, in the dirt. He began to weep. He wept so hard he could hardly catch his breath. He doubled over, his tears falling into the dirt. He reached out and laid his hands on his father's feet when he approached, keeping his head down in the dirt.

"Forgive me, father. I am a fool! I just want to be a servant in your house, that's all I want to be."

His father did not hear him though, for he was busy giving commands to his servants that had gathered. "Bring a clean robe, and sandals for his feet!" His father shouted. He reached down then, picking his son up with strong arms, and pulling him to his chest. "Father," he whispered brokenly, clutching his father with the little strength he had left. His father grabbed his face with both hands, looking into his eyes as he spoke.

"You are home, my son. You are finally home."

He saw the complete acceptance in his father's face and it left him speechless. Here he stood, covered in the filth of his choices, his guilt, and his father was holding onto him, as if the filth wasn't there. His Father was calling him son....Son! He continued to weep as his father practically carried his weak and frail body home.

Home.

He had finally come back home...and he had found the one thing he feared was out of his reach. He had found forgiveness. He would stay with his father as long as his days were on this Earth. He would serve and love and respect his father because his father had loved him...when there was nothing in it for him...he had continued to love his son. Yes, he was home, back in the safety of his father's arms...and he knew he would never leave again.

Never.

This narrative is my interpretation of a parable Jesus told about the love God has for us. Jesus' parable can be found in Luke, chapter fifteen. The prodigal son represents us and the Father represents God. If you ever question or doubt his love for you, read Jesus' story. There is nothing you can do that will ever separate you from God's love. When you have failed, when you are alone, when you are weak and incapable...he will be there, gladly putting sandals on your feet and giving you fresh garments for your filthy rags. He will never stop loving you...and he will always take you back. Always. 

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