y the time I was 16, I was out of control,” began a teenage girl’s letter to an advice columnist. “I became so wild my parents didn’t know what to do with me, so they gave up and said I would have to learn the hard way since I refused to listen to them.
“Shortly before my 16th birthday, I ran away from home. I went to New York City and found a dumpy furnished room, which was all I could afford. It was infested with roaches and rats. I was afraid I would be raped by all the creepy men in the place because the door had a lousy lock that didn’t work half the time.
“I worked nights in the bar. It was a crummy place where the only women who came in were hookers. At a time when I should have been enjoying life and having a wonderful time, I was alone, hungry, stoned every night, and scared to death.
“By that time I was an emotional wreck—messed up from uppers and downers and hooked on marijuana. Five months of that life was all I could take. I swallowed my pride, called home, and asked Mom if I could come back.
“She said, ‘We’ll come and get you.’”
The columnist replied: “You should thank God for such loving parents. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son all over again.”
The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably the greatest story Jesus ever told. For it is more than words; it was fashioned from the love which endured Calvary. Jesus told this parable in response to the scribes and Pharisees, who complained that He “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2 NIV).
The Bible is a mirror. When we read these stories, we don’t see the characters in the parables. We see ourselves. This parable features a rebellious son, a loving father, and a jealous, self-righteous older brother.
The story begins with the younger son asking for his inheritance, turning his back on his father, leaving home, and heading for a faraway place to live life his own way. In the process he loses everything he has. He gets hungry, forcing him to find work. The job is nothing to brag about—it’s feeding pigs. What could be more demeaning to a Jewish boy?
The prodigal hits bottom in the pigpen. When he does, other things—like reality—come into focus. He comes to his senses. He realizes, I’ve made a mess of things. It’s my fault. But I don’t have to stay here. I can go back home. I’ll apologize and throw myself on my father’s mercy.
Repentance is being so sorry for sinning that you turn away from it.
So the prodigal starts for home. And what does the father in Jesus’ story do? While the son is still a long way off, his father sees him and is filled with compassion for him. He runs to his son, throws his arms around him, kisses him, and they celebrate!
This father shows us what God is really like. He rejoices when one wayward child comes home. So should we.