The “Parable of the Prodigal Son” has, as long as I can remember, been just about my favorite passage of Scripture in all of the Scriptures. The story captivates me from beginning to end. From the younger son’s request for inheritance, essentially saying to his father, “Dad, I know you’re not dead yet, but can we pretend that you are…” to the recklessly extravagant (“prodigal” as it were) living of the son–“dissolute living” it says in the New Revised Standard Version. It moves to the son’s famine and feeding the pigs…to the measured approach of this young man as he decides to head on back to his father, acknowledging that he is not “worthy” to be called a son anymore but merely asks to be treated as a slave so he can survive. It is humiliating and humbling. Then we see the father, perhaps constantly waiting at the window for his son to return, hiking up his robe and running down the road to greet his son. And, of course, we see the elder son who, like so many of us, lives in the good graces of the father but fails understand that those graces haven’t been earned by us either.
I love the notion that this is really “The Parable of the Prodigal Father” who is recklessly extravagant in his love. He gives his love to those who don’t “deserve” it. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen claims that we are all to become the father. We are all to become the one who welcomes the least, the last, and the lost as did the father in this story…as does our God.
At the end of the story, this isn’t about fathers or sons but about a God who loves us and offers grace to us.
But I have a hard time not seeing this about fathers and sons at this time. I have a son who is graduating from High School this week and he’ll be headed to college in the fall. I am filled with emotion as a father. My “little boy” has all grown up and has become a fine young man. I’m excited for him as he gets to go and experience what life is like when lived, more or less, on one’s own and how he will have his mind opened up to new wonders and relationships and knowledge. For sure it is a scary world out there. But it is an exciting one.
This transition is also making me feel old. How did I get old enough to have a son headed off to college? How could I, as immature and child-like as I think I am, have helped raise a boy into a young man? I guess I now have something to show for the gray hair on my head.
I don’t believe my son is going to waste our “fortune” on “dissolute” living out there. First off, the “fortune” he gets to take is pretty small. Secondly, while there are many adjectives that describe my son, “prodigal,” “reckless,” and “extravagant” aren’t any of them. At this point in his life, he is a “Not-So-Prodigal Son.”
But as he goes I want him to know that, like the father in the parable, I will be watching out the window for his return. And when I see him approach I will hike up my proverbial robe, run down whatever we have as a drive, and welcome him home.
He’s my son.
I’m his father.
I’ll be waiting.
(By the way, this doesn’t mean that we’re not going to make full use of his room when he’s gone. “Hello, office!”)