Friday, June 20, 2008

There and Back

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had and set off for a distant country . . . (Luke 15:13).

The mind is prone to fill in gaps. That can be dangerous when you’re reading the Bible. Paul warned the Corinthians “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Good advice. Still, omitted details in a story quickly become fodder for the imagination.

So it is with the story we know as the “prodigal son.” Jesus told us exactly what we need to hear but he didn’t tell us everything. How does the prodigal get to the far country? I imagine the faint light of dawn revealing a neatly folded note on the kitchen table.


We’ve both seen this coming for a while. Since it was bound to happen I probably should have packed and left after breakfast or while the sun was up. But knowing of something and actually watching it happen are two different things. It seemed best to me to leave in darkness – thus the note. . . .

And on it goes.

Did he get what he wanted and leave as quickly as he could manage? Did he linger around for a while so as to avoid the obvious stigma of running as soon as he got the money? Jesus doesn’t tell us that. But the absence of this detail in our biblical text allows us to ask a larger question.

How does anyone get to the far country?

Without doubt, some run there. They can’t get there quick enough. It isn’t clear if there’s something in that far place that they are running toward, seeking with high hopes. Or maybe there’s something they’re running from. It doesn’t matter where the far country is as long as it’s away from here, wherever “here” might be.

But it’s just as likely – and every bit as common – that some simply meander to the far country. It was never a destination. It was never even a conscious decision. They drifted there, further and further from home, further and further from their truest and best self. Sometimes our hearts get to the far country before our bodies do. We check out, and then go looking for . . . well, we’re not sure what for. But again, whatever it is isn’t “here.”

And if this is so we may do well to remember that we find ourselves getting home in much the same way. Sometimes the road to the far country is long, and so is the road home again. This prodigal son first found himself in need, then he found himself feeding pigs, then he wanted to share the pigs’ food, then he finally came to himself. Again, Jesus didn’t tell us, but it seems that he resisted the road home for as long as he could.

Maybe how we get back home and how long it takes doesn’t matter, as long as we get there. Perhaps there are some today who are on their way to the far country. At break-neck speed or a gradual slide. Either way. There is a loving father who allows you to go there and graciously waits for you. And this same Father gladly, joyfully welcomes you home.

Heavenly Father, today we pray for all who are lost. We pray for all who have wandered far from their truest self, for all who have rejected the person you created them to be, for all who have slowly become someone they no longer know. We thank you for your faithfulness as we wander in distant places and for your grace that receives us home again. Thank you for being a good and loving Father, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

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