Sam had disgraced his family and dishonored his father’s name. He had gone away to Mumbai to escape the dullness of his village life. He found excitement in the city life style there, and soon ventured into its bad life. Its force was too powerful and strong. One thing led to another and soon he was selling Opium. Not long after that, he became a prime suspect for the police authorities and he was finally arrested. Sitting in the little cell of the Jail, he thought about his family especially his father, a simple Christian man from a small southern village. He recalled his Dad’s parting words “I am waiting for you”. He wondered whether his father would still be waiting for him after all that he had done to dishonor the family name. Would he be welcome in his home? Finally, when he got out of the Jail he wrote a letter to his father, “dear father, I wanted to come home, but I do not know if you will receive me after all that I have done. Father please forgive me. On Sunday night I will be on the train that goes through our village. If you are still waiting for me, will you tie a piece of white cloth on the tree in front of our house?”
On that train journey he reflected on his life over the past days and knew that his father had every right to deny him. As the train neared the village, he was filled with anxiety what would he do if there was no white cloth on the tree in front of his house? Sitting near him was a kind stranger who noticed how nervous his fellow passenger had become. Sam could no longer stand the pressure. He disclosed his story to his fellow passenger in a torrent of words. As they entered the village, Sam said to him “Oh Sir, could you look out for the white cloth, watch for me? What if my father will not receive me back?” But this stranger shouted, “look, young man, your father has not hung just one piece of cloth, but has covered the whole tree with white cloth!” Sam could hardly believe his eyes. In the front yard of his house he saw his father jumping up and down, joyously waving a piece of white cloth and then he ran towards the train. When it stopped at the little station, he ran to his son and put his arms around him, embracing him with tears of joy. “I have been waiting for you!” he exclaimed.
Sam’s story poignantly parallels Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-24. Christ told of another son who threw away his life and money in wrong choices and fearfully returned home in the hope that his father would take him back. He too was met with open arms and was loved and accepted unconditionally. There are a few aspects of the father heart of God that emerges in both of these stories. The father loved his son so much to let him leave home. He loved his son so deeply that he watched every day for him to return home and when he did return home, he did not condemn his son for his wrong actions, but he forgave him and celebrated his return with a great feast.
Both the fathers created the possibility for deep relationships with their sons through their willingness to allow the sons their freedom to choose. Though inwardly the fathers grieved, they did not try to force a relationship. They simply made themselves available to serve as they had always done. This freedom was not granted because the sons agreed with their fathers but because of love. Both fathers had spent years instructing their offspring in the ways they should go, but had left the final choice to their sons. These men’s responses to their rebellious sons exemplify the father heart of God.
Recently I received an e-mail from one of my friends detailing the way parents treat their children in modern families. He started by sharing with the grave problem of child abuse facing the modern world today. And he wasn’t referring to the traditional class of abuse such as physical or sexual child abuse. He was referring to indirect child abuse by parents towards children by failing to provide them with loving and nurturing homes and more importantly, failing to impart the knowledge of God and the experience of their faith to their children. This is the greatest form of child abuse, while acknowledging that physical and sexual abuse of a child is also a huge crime against children. In the light of this e-mail, I was challenged to look at the parable of the prodigal son in the modern terms and realize that how different the story would be. It made me to ask myself why we think the younger son ran away from home. I was thinking of the obvious reasons: The boy was spoiled, selfish, disobedient, etc. But according to the recent times, I think: “He ran away from house because his house was not a sweet and loving home, but it was a hell on earth. There was no love in it. There was no joy in it, only a dictatorial father who gave orders and harsh punishment for broken rules. As soon as the son was old enough to stand up to his stern father, he demanded his share and ran away. We all know, today many parents create this sort of harsh family atmosphere in their homes. It forces the children to find an escape elsewhere. They view sex, drugs and life of debauchery a lesser evil than the oppressive environment of the home. But we may wonder about the attitude of the older brother, the “good son”. “Why was the older brother so obedient, always doing what the father wanted him to do?” My answer to this question is “because he was terrified of his father”. His obedience was not out of love but out of fear; the fear of punishment, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment. So when he sees his father’s mercy towards the younger brother’s return, he becomes resentful. Perhaps, even jealous, that he did not have the courage as that of his younger sibling to defy his father and run away from him. In this whole episode father learnt a lesson. Father realized that it is because of his own mistakes and stubborn nature his son had gone away from him. So he waited for the return of his son and receives him joyfully with a repented heart.
We need to examine the way of our parenting, what type of a home we have created for our children. Is it a home that gathers or is it a home that scatters. Is it a place to run towards or to run away from? Are there hugs in it? Are there smiles in it? Is there a lot of lifting up or is there mostly tearing down and harsh criticism and comparisons to other “well behaved” children. Often parents today say they work hard, day and night to provide for all their children’s material needs such as good food, fashionable clothing, expensive education, all kinds of electric or electronic gadgets and healthcare. What more do the children want? The real answer is, “the children want more love”. How about a compliment? How about telling them we love them just the way they are. How about spending some fun time with them? How about teaching them about God and telling them about our own faith, the relevance of God in our live praying with them.
I don’t know about you, but this is a very different and unique angle in which to view the story of the prodigal son, one which is more realistic and I think quite relevant to our modern times. It makes sense as well. Nobody ever runs away from something good. If we invest our energy in creating safe and nurturing homes, we don’t have to worry about our children running away and getting into trouble. Even if they were lured by the world, they would feel comfortable returning back, because they know they will be forgiven and understood and welcomed back and helped to get them back on track. This is my prayer that all those parents who have neglected their children and have become oppressive, may be able to repent and know of their responsibility. Every father on this earth may turn towards God who has revealed Himself in the Bible as a gentle, forgiving Father, intimately involved with each and every detail of our lives. It is not only a beautiful picture, but also a true one. The important thing is that as we go forward and get to know God for who is – the Perfect father. He always disciplines us in love. He is faithful, generous, kind, and just. He loves us and He longs to spend time with us. He wants us to receive His love and know that we are a special and unique person to Him. Let us receive God’s love and affection. Let us enter into an intimate relationship with our true Father. It is my prayer that we will realize His love for us and respond to the father heart of God as He is waiting for all of us.