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As the aging father settled into his bed for the night, his heart was filled with more peace and comfort than he had felt in years, more than he had feared he would ever experience again. Still, he wondered if he would be able to get even a moment of sleep that night. His mind kept replaying the scenes and the sounds of the day. He had prayed for this day for so long; longing for it, anticipating it, and hoping for it, but with no guarantee that the day would ever come.

The father had been heartbroken when the younger of his two sons callously and disrespectfully demanded his share of the estate and left home for a distant land. The emotional wounds inflicted by this son on his father had nothing to do with the money. What hurt him so deeply was that his son did not want to be home and did not want to be with his father. It felt like personal rejection and personal betrayal. Through tear-filled eyes he had watched his son vanish in the distance. Days turned into weeks, then months, then years, with no sign and no word from his missing son.

But the father’s love for his son never faded or diminished. He continued to love his son as he had always loved him, unconditionally. Though disappointed in his son and displeased with his choices, it was impossible for the father to love him any less, just as it was impossible for him to love him more; he loved him perfectly and completely; he loved him always! He wanted his son to be safe, to be well, and to be home.

That’s why his son’s room had been left exactly as it was the day that it was abandoned; vacant and waiting to be occupied once again. That’s why an open place was left around the father’s table at every meal; a visual reminder that someone dearly loved was missing and whose absence was deeply felt. The father had neatly folded and set aside the household’s best robe, along with an elegant ring and a new pair of sandals; lavish gifts that were prepared and waiting; just waiting to be given without question and without rebuke, if only his son would return.

When the father caught a glimpse of his approaching son in the haze of the horizon, his son’s frame was noticeably smaller than when he left home, evidence of hunger and malnutrition. He could feel his son’s ribs as he tightly embraced him, and the gauntness and hollowness of his cheek as he kissed him. But, there was no mistaking that this was indeed his child. The father didn’t verbally respond to his son’s confession of guilt and shame, or to his nonsensical request to be received as a hired servant rather than a son. Instead, he called for the “welcome home” gifts to brought and bestowed, for the fattened calf to be prepared for a feast, and for a joyful celebration with music and dancing.

The father was understandably saddened by his older son’s hardened refusal to join in the celebration or to welcome his younger brother home. Didn’t he understand? Didn’t he know his father? Didn’t he know himself? Didn’t he see his own need for grace and forgiveness? How could he let his arrogance and jealousy blind him to the beauty of what had just happened and the answer to so many prayers?

“My beloved child was dead and is alive again! My child was lost and has been found!”

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January 2023