Summary: Appreciate the heart of the Father. Don’t waste your life away. Treasure the resources God has given us. Love the things He loves.
(I have taken most thoughts in this sermon from Rodney J. Buchanan’s ’The Father’s House’, July 7, 2002, Mulberry St. UMC, Mt. Vernon, OH.)
Let’s take a look at this interesting story again. Looking at the three characters in this story, we can learn something about ourselves and our heavenly Father.
First, let’s look at the father in the story. He represents God, our heavenly Father. The Father gives us the freedom to do what we like. He is compassionate but not controlling. The father does not stop the son from taking advantage of him. He does not lecture him or scold him. He does not try to keep him from leaving home, nor do anything that would harm the young man’s life. He allows the boy to do what he wants do.
When he asks for the estate to be settled before the father’s death — a great insult in that Jewish culture — the father says nothing. He gives him what would have eventually come to him in the estate.
God gives us such a freedom in life. You can choose to live with Him or go on your own way, to love Him or to love yourself more. Adam and Eve were given the same freedom. God does not step in and stop you or others from doing what is wrong.
We hear people say, “Why doesn’t God do something about the evil in the world? Why doesn’t he stop people from hurting other people or doing evil things?” But God has given us the awesome gift of free will. If He interfered in any way, it would no longer be free will. And we would no longer be human but puppets.
Sometimes, we would like God to be more controlling when it comes to other people. We would like Him to get people to do the right things and stop them from doing wrong things. But when we want to do something we like, we don’t want anyone, including God, to control us. We want freedom.
The Father knows that the moment He forces us to do something, it won’t be from a willing heart and therefore it means nothing. If obedience is something that happens because we are forced, then it is pointless. If we do God’s will willingly from the heart, this gives Him great pleasure. He is happy.
The father in this story did not want his son to stay home if the son did not want to stay. He did not want him to stay out of some kind of obligation. And the father certainly did not want his son to be there just waiting for him to die so that he could get his hands on the inheritance. So he let him go.
The father did not give in out of weakness. He was not being a permissive parent. He was giving the son what the son wanted with the hope that someday he would learn that it was a bad choice. The son has to learn some things on his own. Only if he saw the emptiness of living away from the father, would he want to return to the father willingly. Only if he experienced what it was like to be away from the father’s love, then would he long to return to that love.
We read the whole story and we can see that the boy is really foolish. But when you are in the middle of that situation, it is not so easy to see. The world looks so appealing, and people seem so free and having such a good time. We think that the world can give us meaning and purpose in life. But we are wrong. Away from the father, we are lost without a guide, we are exposed to harm without any protection. That was what the young son found out.
In the story, the father does not go to the distant country in search of his son. He will not rescue him against his will. He will let him go until he has discovered for himself that the world is not the great and wonderful place it seemed to be. But his door is always open, and he is longing for the son’s return.
He did not let him go because he did not care. It is obvious that he loves his son and he has been looking out for him. Every day he checks the horizon for some sign that his son is on his way back home. And when his son’s silhouette finally does appear in the distance, the father recognizes it immediately and takes off running.
He can hardly wait to throw his arms around him. There is not the slightest hint of a lecture or ridicule. There is no guilt-trip. Neither is there talk of the pain caused or the debt owed. There is only one expression - JOY. There was only joy that the son has returned home out of his own free will.