Summary: The Returning Son doesn’t bring any gifts to his family from his time away. Instead, he comes asking for a small amount of mercy and a job. Does he consider his father's broken heart and the agony of rejected love that his father has endured?

For those of you old enough to remember the years of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. I was a young kid back then and my parents lived in northern Alabama. We welcomed my sister in those days as I remember waiting in long lines at the gas stations hoping they haven’t run out. But few things stand out from those days as Iran Hostage Crisis where 66 hostages were taken inside the American embassy in Tehran. We saw them blindfolded and paraded in front of the television for Americans to see. In the midst of the crisis, Americans took to tying yellow ribbons around trees and utility poles throughout our nation. Tony Orlando and Dawn sang “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” in the early 1970s and it became an international hit. The song spoke of man who had spent three years in prison and as he returned home, he looked for the yellow ribbon around the outside tree as a sign his wife welcomed him home again. The yellow ribbon soon appeared everywhere during the 444 days of captivity for the American hostages in Iran. It was a sign of hope and joy as the families of those held hostage returned home.

Jesus Himself tells a story where we picture a yellow ribbon tied around the open gates of heaven itself, awaiting the return of prodigals. Today, we hear a story that badly needs rescuing from its familiarity.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)

God’s love is what is needed when the young daughter returns home over thanksgiving and her mother asks why she hasn’t found anyone. God’s love is what is needed when the father slumps down in the corner of the Pediatric ICU looking at his daughter hooked up to more tubes that he can count. God’s love is what is needed when the young girl bounces from house to house looking for someone to love her. The love of God.

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