Coming home from elementary school one day, I made a fateful detour to a construction site to explore the mounds of dirt and mud. A few minutes later, my adventure turned into horror as I fell into an open hole and up to my armpits in deep, disgusting, muddy water. I was a mess and I was afraid to go home but there was no other option. A homeless muddy future was much less appealing than facing the music. Dripping wet, I returned HOME that afternoon and to my surprise I was greeted by compassion and care instead of anger and disappointment. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It taught me a great lesson in who I want to be as a person and as a parent.
The final character in the prodigal story is the father. Although much of the focus lies on the wayward brother it is my contention that the central character in this Oscar-winning narrative is the father himself. In particular, I watch his postures: his grace when his son callously demands his inheritance, his kindness when confronted by the resentfulness of his older son, and his love when he sees his son in the distance and runs immediately to embrace him. The father’s posture is one of an open heart and open hands. Three fascinating characters in the story; but who are we in the story? Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son states “I am destined to step into my Father’s place and offer to others the same compassion that he has offered me. The return to the Father is ultimately the challenge to become the Father.” What a beautiful thought and challenge. No matter who we are in the narrative the apex of spiritual aspiration is to become the Father and assume His posture of invitation and restoration. We should be the most welcoming, inclusive, grace-filled people on the planet. We can take the posture of the Father: always waiting, looking, searching, and opening the door to the sons and daughters who have drifted away in their hearts or lives from HOME.