And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 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.
What had driven the son home but the hunger and the misery that resulted from some bad choices he had made. And in his lowest place, he remembered the goodness of his father. Not only had his father been willing to give him his inheritance and let him go off to the far country, but he was also a man who took good care of his servants and treated them well. He had always had enough as a son, and even the servants never went hungry at his father’s house.
When he realizes the error of his ways, when he is willing to humble himself and return home, he counts on the character of his father and the goodness in his heart. But the father’s love goes way beyond what he could have ever hoped for. As he journeyed home, planning to beg his father to allow him to be a servant, his father is looking for him, waiting for him, running to him as soon as he spots him off in the distance. In that moment, the son experiences love that goes beyond just the goodness that he’d known his father to possess. He finds unconditional love in that embrace and in the celebration to come.
Maybe what drives us to God at first is the misery of our sinful condition, our hunger, our poverty, our uncleanness. And when we seek Him for just some bread, He gives us a feast instead. He exchanges our stained and stinky garments for a pure white robe. Instead of a rebuke, we receive an embrace as He holds us close and showers His great love upon us. Maybe then comes that realization that we are loved by a holy God. We are valuable to Him. He treasures us like a long-lost son come home after a time in the far country.
God is the father closing the distance to get to us as soon as possible. He is the one who came all the way to earth, who put on flesh, who died on a cross to unite us to Himself once again. That is a powerful love. That is more than bread for a servant or a household of goods for a son. That is mercy that overcomes all of our sins and failures. That is grace bigger than all the ways we’ve disobeyed and disappointed our Father. That is love that reaches out and pulls us close and is always willing to welcome us home.