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A prodigal who encounters Judgment and Compassion

One of the most joyful phrases of the Bible is found in the story of the prodigal son. In verse 17 of Luke 15, it says, “And then he came to himself.” Why is this phrase joyful? It is a realization of wrong and a heart that is ready to repent. The prodigal son realizes he is at his “rock bottom” with no where else to go and if he hangs on to his stubbornness and pride he will starve to death. He realizes that even the servants in his father’s household have plenty to eat while he is ready to eat the muck he’s feeding to pigs. But…then he comes to himself. It’s a point in his story where he makes a life changing decision and returns home and encounters both judgment and compassion..

Do you know a prodigal?

Who do you know in your life that is a “prodigal”? Someone who has turned away to reckless and wasteful living. Someone who has walked away from the Christian faith to live like the world. It might be a child, a relative, a friend, a coworker, or fellow church member. Maybe it’s you. One of the biggest hindrances to a prodigal finding their way home is the fear of being judged, unforgiven, unloved, unwanted, and unwelcomed. But what if that prodigal knew that home was a place of love, compassion, and forgiveness?

A brother of judgment

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, we find a father of compassion and brother of judgment. The older brother in the story was angry the prodigal son had come home and he was even more angry that his father welcomed him with open arms and held a great feast for him. All he could see was how faithful he had been to his father and he knew that all that his father had should one day be his. Perhaps there was some fear that this brother that returned would be given some of what should become his. Instead of celebrating that his brother was safe, alive, and back home, he was full of self-centeredness, judgement and jealousy. The prodigal had come home, but now his brother is the one gone astray due to a heart of unforgiveness.

A father’s concern

Whenever I read this story, I imagine the father walking to the end of his property every morning and every night and taking a long look down the road – looking for his son to come home. I imagine him falling on his knees in prayer, praying for God to keep his son safe and to bring him back home. I imagine how he misses his son, remembers him as a little boy and all the hopes and dreams he had for this son. Can you see the concern and worry etched across his face as he look down the road each day? He doesn’t know if this son is alive or dead…or if he will ever come home.

Perhaps the other son that stayed at home watches every morning as his father makes the walk to the end of his property looking for the son that left. Maybe there is a little bit of hope inside of him that his brother will come home, but based on how he reacts when he does return, he probably is more likely filled with disgust and jealousy that his father longs for this missing son to return.

A father of compassion

I imagine the day the son comes walking down the road, barely alive. Hungry. His clothes torn, dirty and hanging on him with all the weight he’s lost. He’s barely recognizable. But as his father looks down the road just as the sun is setting, about to turn back home, he stops and turns for just one last look and just over the hill comes the figure of a man walking. He recognizes the gait – it shows the man is tired – but it’s his gait.

He looks a little longer, with hope in his eyes. The man gets a little closer. The man’s hair is dirty and matted together. His eyes are tired, sunken into a face that hasn’t eaten in a long time. His feet are dirty – maybe even bloody from the long walk. The father squints, almost afraid to hope. In the man’s eyes he sees regret, fear of rejection, uncertainty.

The prodigal son looks up he sees his father and stops – not sure of how he will be received. The two stare at each other for a moment and as the father realizes that this is indeed his son, he lets out a whelp of joy and runs to his son. Tears of joy stream down his face. He embraces his son, not caring about the filth or stench. He calls his servants and instructs them to bring his son new clothes and to prepare a feast. And he wraps an arm around his son, helping him make the last steps home.

God is a Father of Compassion

Each of Jesus’ parables held a spiritual meaning to them. In this parables, we are like the prodigal son who wanders away from God, squandering everything and then when we hit rock bottom we begin to find our way back to God.

God is like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. No matter how far away from Him we roam and no matter what we get ourselves mixed up in, when we return with a contrite heart and ask for His forgiveness, God will open His arms to us and welcome us home with joy and celebration.

The brother is more like the world who wants to judge all the mistakes and poor choices and then when the prodigal returns they become angry, unforgiving, doubting if the repentance is genuine. And if God should choose to use the mistakes and lessons learned to bring Him honor and glory then the world steps in to say, “how could God ever use them?”

To the prodigal you know, will you be judgment or compassion?

Think back to the prodigal you know. Who will you choose to be more like: the compassionate father or the judgmental son? Would you be the one to wrap your arm around the prodigal and help them make the last steps home? If the prodigal knew that compassion and forgiveness awaited them, would they be more likely to return once they reach the point of repentance?

God, help us to recognize the prodigals – not to judge, but to be the one that helps them find their way back home. Give us hearts of compassion, ready to forgive, and welcome them home with joy. When you choose to use their story for your glory – help us be encouragers and seek ways to help them carry out their calling. 

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