`Jesus believed that so long as a man was away from God he was not truly himself; he was only truly himself when he was on the way home.' William Barclay
THE STORY OF THE LOVING FATHER (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the part of the estate which falls to me.' So his father divided his living between them. Not many days after, the son realized it all and went away to a far country, and there in wanton recklessness scattered his substance. When he had spent everything a mighty famine arose throughout that country and he began to be in want. He went and attached himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs; and he had a great desire to fill himself with the husks the pigs were eating; and no one gave anything to him. When he had come to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, and I--I am perishing here with hunger. I will get up and I will go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer fit to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants."' So he got up and went to his father.
While he was still a long way away his father saw him, and was moved to the depths of his being and ran and flung his arms round his neck and kissed him tenderly. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger; put shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and rejoice, for this my son was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to rejoice." (Courtesy our digi-pals at studylight.org)
While he was still a long way off...
I remember the story a man I admire told about feeling the eyes of his father at the Thanksgiving table while he was trying to avoid the gaze of his entire family.
He was living in a car, selling drugs and showed up sort of last minute at his father's request. He was a former wrestler and summer lifeguard and a young boy had died on his watch not so long before. His grandma snarled when he showed up, "You were such a cute baby."
During the meal, when all he really wanted to do was eat and disappear he felt his father's eyes and it was like everyone else disappeared and they were the only ones in the room.
His daddy said, "You're going to be quite a man, son. You're going to pin your problems and you're going to encourage a lot of people."
He said, "Dad, you don't know what I've done. What I've become."
His daddy had tears of knowing and pride in his eyes when he said, "It doesn't change a thing."
The same lifeguard tells of the days after the incident waiting and bonding with the family in the hospital waiting room, praying the little boy would come out of the coma.
When the news came down that the boy wouldn't be coming home, the young lifeguard ran down the hall away from the family to find a wall to punch. The boy's father ran after him and said, "NO! Listen to me: I can't lose two, today."
Barclay goes on to say in his Daily Study Bible (a staple for anyone who loves the depths of context), "...according to the best Greek text, his father never gave him the chance to ask to be a servant. He broke in before that. The robe stands for honor; the ring for authority, for if a man gave to another his signet ring it was the same as giving him the power of attorney; the shoes for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of the family were shod and slaves were not."
I read Somewhere Awesome, The Prodigal Son is better known in some cultures as the Parable of the Running Father. It was reportedly custom for the village people (pun intended) to have the right, if they so chose, to smash a jar of clay at the disgraced child's feet, thereby disowning the child on behalf of the parents: if the village got to the child, first. Only the momma would even be allowed to see the child to say goodbye before he was banished forever for bringing shame on the family.
So the shame of the running father, lifting up his skirt and running (which were cultural no-no's; considered undignified) when he saw the boy .."while he was still a long way off..." was instigated by a cruel cultural tradition.
AW Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
I believe Jesus is not only the Great Physician but also the Great Theologian The rest of us; even the very greatest of our Theologians are maybe at the second grade level of insight into God. That isn't an insult to anyone who dedicates their life and studies to knowing Him; it is just a perspective on our ability to grasp the Eternal and Uncreated as creatures.
There can be a huge difference between what we know and what we think we know.
I remember sitting in the Family Room at our church with my dear friend who also happens to be my pastor. I was coming out of a meeting with a man I knew in my heart had never asked a leader he trusted the question I felt compelled to ask: "Is there anything you see in my life that will keep me from going to the next place God wants to take me?"
And he said, "No."
And I said, "It's not that kind of question."
And he laughed. And 20 minutes or so later in the middle of our unrelated chat, he stopped and looked at me with a father's eyes and said, "Yes. You're too hard on yourself."
That was the almost identical phrasing my father-in-law had spoken to me in the same Family room not long before.
Who do you know who is still a long ways off?
Remind them, it doesn't change a thing.