And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
The journey home begins with one step, but it isn’t always easy. The son in this story finally made a right decision and sought to return to his father. He’d started the long journey back, and that was enough, because even as he still has a long way to go, his father races toward him. He had perhaps been expecting to be chastened, maybe rejected, punished, or kicked out. Instead he receives the warm and tight embrace of his father, the best robe, the fatted calf. Knowing what he’d done and where he’d been, maybe even with the dirt and smell of his time away still upon him, he is accepted and restored, assured of his father’s unfailing love for him.
The father is watching and waiting, probably hoping and praying and longing for his son’s return. But it’s not to get his money back or gain a servant or mete out a deserved punishment. It is because he loves his son and he wants his son with him where he is. His son had sinned and hurt his father greatly, but there is grace and mercy for those who repent. There is rejoicing and acceptance of those who come back home. There is joy that the lost is found and the wayward is restored.
The father’s love far surpasses the son’s expectations of it. It is bigger than he could have hoped for. It is an overwhelming love that is perhaps the best illustration in Scripture of what unconditional love looks like. The son’s value was not in what he had or what he had done. His value came from being his father’s son. And God’s love for us looks like this father’s love but on a much bigger scale. It far surpasses what we might expect it to look like. It covers a multitude of sins. It accepts dirty sinners by pure grace. It goes above and beyond and reaches out to welcome us into our Father’s waiting arms.
When we’ve messed up, all we have to do is make that one decision to turn and go back. It might seem like such a long journey home, but God is willing to close the gap. He doesn’t give up on us, like this father didn’t give up on his son. His desire is to receive us back unto Himself. So may we just be willing to be humble and repentant and experience our Father’s unconditional love.