Prodigals break our hearts.
One day, they grin toothlessly at the camera as they hold up the cake celebrating their 10th birthday, and it seems like the next when they peer at you confusedly with blue lips and skin as their body tries to process the poison of fentanyl.
When you care about the prodigal, the far country seems far indeed.
My children recently memorized Luke 15, and one of them asked the question, “If the shepherd went looking for the sheep and the woman went looking for the coin, how come no one went looking for the lost son?”
When Jesus told these parables, he emphasized repentance. The Shepherd and the woman each rejoice over their lost items just like all of heaven rejoices when even one sinner repents.
In the story of the lost son, we get another perspective. The father has lost his prodigal son, but Jesus gives us a glimpse into what it is like to be lost and in need of repentance.
His words echo the despair of the boy, “No one gave him anything.”
When I once told the story of the Prodigal Son to a group of incarcerated women, I didn’t even get past this point of despair when one raised her hand.
“I am like that,” she said. “I was so paranoid on drugs that I spent three days in a doghouse before I was arrested. I had become like an animal! No one would give me anything, just like your story says. Then, in solitary, I swallowed my bra hooks to attempt suicide. Once you’re at that point of the story, it’s like you can only choose death or life, but you know you can’t stay where you are.” She knew she needed repentance.
So, at the point of despair, who comes looking? A shepherd sought his sheep. The woman sought her coin diligently. Who finds the Prodigal in the field, longing to be fed with the pods the pigs eat?
The prodigal is found by this memory: “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!”
The Father’s kindness came looking for that prodigal. When all hope seemed lost, the boy came to himself and remembered an instance of his father’s kindness.
Perhaps the memory was one where the boy had scoffed. Why did mere servants need so much bread? Why would his father go to the expense and trouble to provide more than enough for them? But, the father had been kind, and the boy had remembered it.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”
And in the case of the prodigal son, that is exactly what happened. The Father’s kindness prompted the boy to humbly return, and when he arrived, the father was waiting to show steadfast love and compassion.
We are not able to save our prodigals. Our kindness is not sufficient. Our tough love may not win the day. However, God’s kindness is meant to lead them to repentance.
We may not know what to do for them, but we do know how to pray. Pray that they will remember their Father’s kindness.