Both boys are blind to begin with. Neither of them knows who he really is, nor what his life is worth, nor how to live in peace and joy and contentment. Maybe you have the same problem.
One of them adopts a strategy of extravagant spending, the other of disciplined saving, but neither of these sons is satisfied. One of them is restless and tired of the routine; he wants to leave, to make his own way in the world, and he goes for it. The other is unhappy and resentful of his lot, but he doesn’t dare leave. He follows the rules and keeps his nose clean, but he doesn’t like it.
Both boys are lost, each in his own way, because they have both lost sight of their Father. They do not know themselves, not rightly, because they have forgotten what He is like. They do not feel at home with Him, because they no longer know His heart.
But He has not forgotten either of them. He has not lost sight of them, no matter where they are, near or far. And He has not turned His heart away from either one of them. Not at all.
That is the point on which the story turns, on which everything depends. Not what the boys are like, nor how they behave, but who the Father is, and what He does.
You’ll finally find yourself there, too, neither in wanderlust nor work, but in your Father, in His household and family.
I do not mean that your day-to-day life in the world doesn’t matter. I’m not suggesting that what you do, be it good or bad, is of no account or consequence. You should not neglect your job, nor should you waste what God has given you, certainly not in wrongdoing. A child of the Father will want to make different decisions than that.
But the point is, that you do not make a life or a name for yourself. Nor do you have to. You have been given life, and you live it, by the grace of your Father. And His house is your home, your true home, your place of peace and rest, because He has named you with His Name. All that He has is yours, because He is your Dad. Even His servants are well-cared for, and well fed. How much more His own dear children!
That is what is true and constant, stable and consistent. The Father remains faithful to who and what He is. He cannot deny Himself, and so He will not disown His children. Not when His younger son wishes He were dead, and values wealth over family, and runs off to squander himself and his life on the reckless pursuit of fun. And not when His older son tells Him off, and yells in His face, and contemptuously refuses to enter the house.
He does not disown them, because He loves them, and He has compassion for them, even though they suffer the consequences of their own attitudes and actions. He is patient with them, and He gently pursues them in peace.
He does not disown you, either, but as He has called you by name, so does He seek you out and call you back to Himself.
But who, then, will be the Son after His Father’s heart?
He will be the One who has learned to live in His Father’s House. Who looks to His Father, and trusts Him, for all good things. Who does not seek His own, but the Father’s will, and gladly receives whatever His Father gives Him. Who does not begrudge the Father’s generosity to His brothers and sisters, but lays down His own life for each and all of them.
He is the One who receives sinners and eats with them; who calls publicans and prostitutes to repentance, and in mercy welcomes them to His Table. He goes looking for the lost sheep, rescues it from danger, and bears it home upon His shoulders, rejoicing in its recovery.
This is the Son in whom God the Father reconciles the whole wide world to Himself, not counting trespasses or keeping track of sins, but forgiving iniquity, absolving guilt, and covering shame with His own grace and glory. Such is the staggering extent of His divine Love.
The Lord your God is not passive but active in this rescue of the lost. He takes every initiative in seeking them out and saving them. Indeed, He has become your Salvation. Not abstractly or generically, but concretely, in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.
You see it in the case of the older brother, when the Father goes out to him and pleads with him. This is the ministry of reconciliation: “My child, I am at peace with you. Be at peace with Me, and with your brother. Come on home, and come inside. Rest yourself here in My love for you.”
This ministry of reconciliation hinges upon the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Already there God has turned to you a fatherly heart in the Person of His Son. In His flesh and blood you are shown what your God and Father is really like, and you find out how far He has gone to love you, to find you, and to bring you home.
He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on your behalf — to become your sin; and to bear and suffer all its consequences for you — in order to justify you, and to reconcile you to Himself.
What that means is that the only-begotten Son of God has gone on a journey, from the House of His Father, into the far country of your sin and death. Here He has emptied Himself, and made Himself nothing. He has spent Himself entirely, in love for sinners, for all of the unrighteous and unworthy. He has made Himself unclean with their uncleanness. He has soiled Himself with your slop, and made Himself stinky with your stench.
He has placed Himself under the burden and the condemnation of the Law, and has suffered its judgment, its punishment and shame. Abandoned and alone, a stranger in a strange land; beaten up, a bloody mess; stripped naked, and hung up on the Cross in shame. The eyes of the world are upon Him with contempt, because the handwriting of your sin has been leveled against Him as an accusation. “Where is Your Father now?” the mockers taunt and tease.
But the Father has handed Him over to this death, and this Son, the true Son after His Father’s heart, goes willingly. He becomes your sin. He bears your curse, and He becomes that, too. He is damned in your place, as you have deserved.
As Life is found with the Father, in the Father’s House, so does separation from the Father bring death. That is where you were, so that is where this Son goes, even unto death upon the Cross.
In Him, the Father comes to you and finds you. And not for nothing does He do it. Nor merely to commiserate with you. Neither to wallow in the muck and the mire without any help or hope for you. But He comes to you, in order that you might become the righteousness of God.
For the Son who went on a journey into a distant country, has also risen from the dead and returned to His Father. The One who humbled Himself unto death, sharing your shame and disgrace, has also been highly exalted, and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God. He died, and yet, behold, He lives. He became sin, and yet, He is glorified and honored, He is righteous and holy, in the presence of His God and Father, forever and ever.
This, then, is the answer to all of your questions. This is the resolution of all your predicaments and problems. This is your resurrection and your righteousness. This is who you are, and what you are worth. For as Christ, the Son of God, was baptized into your pig sty, and has returned to His Father in peace and joy, so are you baptized into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.
To come to yourself, to find yourself, and to know yourself rightly, is to know God as your Father in Christ Jesus. It is to remember your Baptism, and what your Baptism means and does for you; that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so do you also rise and walk in newness of life.
Recognize your sins, and repent of them. Return to the Lord your God. Come home to your Father in Christ; no matter whether you have been far, far away, pursuing the fake and fatal “freedom” of debauchery, or always close at hand, but hardening your heart while trying to earn your keep. Forget all of that, and remember who you are by the grace of God: “You are My beloved son,” the voice of the Father declares. “With you I am well-pleased.”
Beloved, do you hear? Your Father calls you to repentance, which is to say, He calls you to come home to Himself: Not as a bargain to be struck, nor as a barter to be made; not as a condition or contingency; but because He loves you, and He longs for you to be with Him, in order to give you Life. And it surely is not hopeless; nor are you a lost cause. For there is no depth or distance from which He has not already found you and brought you back home to Himself in Christ.
Consider the prodigal son, in whose place you have also been, and whose place the Son of God has freely taken: Already when the prodigal “comes to himself,” it is because he begins to remember his Father, and his Father’s House, and what his Father is like. That is what raises him up and turns him homeward.
And while he is still strategizing, feeling sorry for himself and ashamed of his sin, but ready to make a deal — while he is “still a long way off” — even then, “his Father saw him.” His Father’s eye has always been upon him, and has never lost sight of him. Not looking over his shoulder to criticize and condemn, but with deep, divine compassion for him.
He will not force His son to come home. He has freely allowed the boy his fatal freedom; for what the Father longs for is not a servant, not a slave or hired hand, but His son. He loves him, and that is how he deals with the boy. So, He will not force him against his will; but neither does the Father simply wait it out and make His son bridge the gap and go the distance. By no means.
What you need to understand, in order to get the picture of this parable, is that the Father goes out to get His boy and brings him back home. In doing so, He takes the prodigal’s shame upon Himself, and He adorns the young man with His own honor. He serves notice that, “Anyone who has a problem with My son, has a problem with Me.”
But there is no law, no accusation, guilt or shame, that can separate a child from this Father’s love.
It is no mere emotion, nor sentiment, nor empty show. This Father’s heart is turned toward you, and open to you, and beats for you, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead. It is in Him that God the Father runs to you, embraces you, and kisses you. It is with Him that your Father robes you in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. It is by His Gospel of forgiveness that He puts a ring on your finger — not a wedding ring, in this case, but the signet ring of a child and heir of the house. So, too, are your feet shod with the sandals of peace, for you are welcomed without any reservations or restrictions. You are at home.
Little wonder that St. Paul genuflects before this God and Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. We bend the knee, too, not in shame or terror, but in faith and love, in gratitude and joy, and in reverent awe of His mercy. For such love the Father has for us, that He has given us the right to be called His children.
This is what it means to be a father. This is what it looks like. Patience and peace for your children. Compassion, even for their self-inflicted hurts, and forgiveness for all their sins. Not returning anger for anger, but exercising gentleness and self-control. Not giving up on the wayward daughter and prodigal son, but watching and waiting, ready to run to them with open arms and bring them home. And to do it all over again. Not keeping score. Not counting the cost, nor counting their trespasses against them.
What man among you is like that? Where has there ever been, or where shall you ever find, such a father as that? You do not see it in yourself, nor in your family. “Show us such a Father,” you pray, “and that will be sufficient.”
My dear child, He is already with you, and so shall He always be. For you know the Father in His Son: In the One who receives sinners, including you, and eats with them. In the One who has become the Sacrifice, who now feeds you with Himself, with His Body and His Blood. In this One who has become your Brother in the flesh, in order to make you a child of God in Him; who was dead and has come to life again, that you might live.
Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! For this flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is the heart of God the Father: for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. For you fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; for you husbands and wives, and for you widows, widowers, and orphans in distress. Here is your everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, who does not cast you away from His presence, but has found you and brought you here, home to Himself, in love.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.