We had a touching sermon this morning about the God we know and love, the God who cares about both the Somebodies and the Nobodies. It included two stories: the story from the Bible about the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears of gratitude for his love and a more recent story about a family who welcomed their own prodigal teen prostitute daughter home. In the recent story, some 40 members of the immediate and extended family — parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins — gathered at the train station in party hats blowing silly party blowers to celebrate her return.
Not just her parents but a large part of her extended family awaited the returning runaway at the train station.
One well-dressed, middle-aged member of the congregation began weeping when the pastor described what the teen girl’s father said as she attempted to apologize to him:
“Shhh,” he told the girl, wrapping his arms around her. “There’s time enough for that. My daughter has come home.”
After the service, the pastor spoke to the woman.
“How’s everything? You doing all right? How’s your friend doing?”
She gave the expected answers to the rapid-fire series of everyday questions. Work was fine. She was getting extra shifts, which meant more money, and also negotiating more Sundays off, which meant she’d be at church more often. Her friend was doing well, but since they worked different shifts, it was harder to spend time together.
Then, as the pastor turned, she said:
“You know, I was a runaway, too. When I came home, my mother said the family was happier without me.”
What a staggering story. That would be as if, when the Prodigal Son showed up, his father told him:
“Look, you were never easy to live with. You didn’t want to be part of the family. You’ve already taken your inheritance. You didn’t need us. So go. We don’t need you either.”
Of course, that’s not how the Bible story ends. God has showed us, in this story, how God behaves when we run from him to seek our own pleasures. God welcomes us back, always, forgiving before we can even speak our request for forgiveness. God knows our hearts, how sad and lost we are when we are away, and always, always wants us in the family. When we offer, in our shame, to just work for God as a hired hand, God says, “No!” God wants us in the family as a full member of the family — the position we tried to escape, with all the rights, responsibilities, and relationship that being part of a family involves.
I’m glad that a prodigal daughter who still can cry when she remembers being turned away from her earthly family has a heavenly Father who holds her close.
Have you met any prodigals you can embrace in the name of our Lord?