WHILE THE SON WAS STILL A LONG WAY OFF...
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’.
“But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
We all know the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. I have preached on it hundreds of times and looked into it from numerous viewpoints.
It is my story.
It is the story of humankind.
It is the story of the one who left but never stopped being.
It is also the story of the one who never left but never was either.
Above all, it is the story of God’s love, and the way He responds as a Father: The Father of the one who left and never stopped being; the Father of the one who never left but never was either.
Today I was almost asleep when I heard this voice that said, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, ran to him and hugged him…”
The Father not only let his son leave and kept on expecting his return; he also saw him from afar and made the way back with his son.
Between the Father’s view and the son’s homecoming, there is a “still a long way off”. The Father went for his son “still a long way off”. A long way both to leave and to come back.
Back home, however, a problem arose: the one who had never left but had never been was upset because the one who had left but had never stopped being was back.
The Father, however, only takes part in it because he is the Father, but he does not let anyone emotionally seize him. If someone does not like it, it is not his problem. And there is a path that the Father and this son must walk together, just the two of them.
At home there is a lot of jealousy, a lot of rivalry, a lot of unhealthiness.
Fortunately, before seeing our hurt brothers, we can see the Father’s face.
Fortunately He comes to be with us still far away from home, before the jealousy and envy impressions try to ruin the meeting that is really worthy: the meeting of the Father with his son.
Fortunately the one who has never left but has never been only shows up after the broken son is at peace with the happy Father.
Fortunately there is the “still a long way off”, which gives us the time to get back home so filled with the Father’s love that we no longer have the time or the heart willingness to get infected by our brothers’ jealousy.
While he was still a long way off… His Father saw him, ran to him, and hugged and kissed him!
(Written in June 2003)
From the original “VINHA O FILHO AINDA LONGE…”
Translation: F. R. Castelo Branco | December 2007
Scripture quotation is taken from the NIV (New International Version)