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Alan was a pretty normal boy from a medium-sized town. And he loved his dog. Alan had been after his parents for a dog since he was five, and on his ninth birthday they finally granted his wish. He named the dog “Rover” because he’d always thought that was about the best name a dog could have. And he loved that dog as much as any boy ever loved a dog.

Every day when he got home from school, Alan would take Rover out into the yard to play. It was the favorite part of his day. By the time he was ten, his mother regularly shouted herself hoarse calling for them to come back inside so Alan could do his homework.

And then one day Alan came home from school as usual, put his books down as usual, and took Rover out to the yard as usual. A friend came by and called Alan over, and while they chatted and laughed, Rover chased squirrels, as usual. But soon Alan couldn’t hear the dog’s barking anymore, and when he turned around, Rover was gone.

You can imagine what happened next. Alan ran all over the yard and all over the block calling out Rover’s name. “Here, boy!” echoed halfway across the town. Once his mother figured out what was wrong she put Alan in the car and they drove up and down every street in the neighborhood, looking, calling, and hoping.

They didn’t find Rover. Alan could hardly eat his dinner that night, and the next few weeks weren’t much better. He missed that dog as much as any boy ever missed a dog, and he never stopped looking for him. Every weekend his parents drove him to the pound to see if Rover had shown up there. He even started reading the local paper to see if they had any news of his dog. Weeks passed, but Alan refused to give up hope.

And then one day when Alan was walking home after school, kicking rocks and taking his time, unwilling to face his dog-less house and yard again, something at the far end of his street caught his eye. Immediately, instinctively, he knew what it was, and he started to run. His backpack was slowing him down, so he dropped it in the street. His hat blew off and ended up in somebody’s front yard. Alan ran two and a half blocks at full speed, and could barely gasp “Rover!” as he scooped his dog into his arms and hugged him tight.

Rover was full of mud, half-starved, and probably full of fleas, but Alan didn’t care. He’d found his lost dog. Rover was coming home, and that meant everything to him.

If you’d asked Alan later why he ran so far and so hard to get his dog, he probably would have looked at you funny. The answer was obvious — he loved his dog, and it didn’t matter what he had to do to have him home again.

God loves you infinitely more than any boy ever loved his dog.

Now, you might not ask the father in our parable why he ran so far and so hard to meet his son, but if you were one of his servants, or a fellow villager, you might wonder how he could behave that way. The father was obviously a wealthy man. He would have been one of the elders of the town — a man with a reputation to protect and standards to uphold. You can be sure everyone in the village knew what kind of disrespect the younger son had shown him before he left, and if anyone had seen the son before the father did, they would have assumed the son would have a high price to pay for that disrespect before his father would even acknowledge him as his son.

But the father didn’t care what anyone else thought. He didn’t care about protecting his pride or his position. He only cared about one thing — getting his son back. And so he ran. He ran to welcome and embrace his lost son, and he ran to cover his half-starved, unwashed, bum of a son with kisses. Because he loved him, and nothing else mattered. The son that had been dead to him was alive again — the one who was lost had been found.

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