In our last column we saw that his motives for heading home were not all that noble. His heart didn't lead him home, his stomach did. One of the biggest hindrances to people coming to Christ is they feel that somehow they must either have noble motives or they must somehow clean up their act first. Nothing could be further from the truth. The boy in our story had nothing to offer the father. He had lost his inheritance, he had lost his self-respect and he had lost his religion (evidenced by his choice of jobs). He had nothing to offer the father but the stench of pigs on his clothing.
We need to remember that we also have nothing we can offer the Holy God of the universe. All we can bring him is our pain, our losses and our sins. We cannot "clean up" first and then hope to be accepted. This is one of the things that makes Christianity unique among all world religions. Every other religious system in the world is about reformation; do the prescribed acts laid out by them and then you become good enough, hopefully, to enter their version of paradise.
Christianity is different. Christianity is not about reformation that works from the outside in, rather it is about transformation, that works from the inside out. Jesus was not a moral teacher who came to make bad people good. Jesus was the son of God who came to make dead people live. There is nothing we can do to scrub the stain of sin from our lives or to remove the stink of pigs from our clothes.
I've used that phrase "the stink of pigs" throughout this series of articles. I have used it purposefully. For the Jew, the pig was a forbidden animal; considered unclean both physically and spiritually. For this Jewish boy to have been working with them shows how far he had actually sunk. To use a modern phrase, "he was so low he would have to reach up to scratch a snails belly and that would be a stretch." This boy had nothing to offer the father but contrition, but desperate times require desperate measures. He climbed out of the muck and headed home. He hoped that his father would at least allow him to become a household servant. He was pretty sure he had blown it too badly to ever be considered a son again. I am sure the journey home was much more difficult for him than the journey away from home. Regrets over his behavior must have flooded his mind. Disappointment and anger over his deserting friends troubled him. Questions of "What if?" were his companions all the way home. Then he topped the hill and could see the homestead in the distance.
What happened next is amazing. His father was watching. Waiting for his prodigal to come home. As soon as he topped the horizon, the father recognized his son. He knew his walk. And the father does what no self-respecting Middle-Eastern man is suppose to do: he broke out in a run to meet his son. In that act alone what this father did was to take all the shame and humility of the son upon himself.
The son of course had readied his speech, but smell of pigs, dirt and all, the father never gave him the chance to express it. He grabbed the boy, hugged him, kissed him, and what the boy could not do, the father did. He ordered the best clothes brought out, new sandals for those bare feet and placed his ring on his son, symbolizing his full acceptance.
That is what God wants to do for each of us. We have nothing to offer, but what we do have to do is begin the journey home. More next week.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him at 11677 Brown Bridge Road, Covington or firstname.lastname@example.org