Read Luke 15:17-24
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. (NLT)
Sometimes we figure we must clean up our act in order for God to embrace us. As a result, we engage in the futile and wearying process of trying to be acceptable to God. We suspect it is all futile and so we end up defining ourselves by our failures and mistakes. And we become what we imagine ourselves to be.
The prodigal son shows us a better way. We come to God as we are, dirt from the pigsties still clinging to us. We do need to repent, or determine to come to God. We do need to admit the mess we are in and desire to get out of the pigsty. It is not as if repentance is ‘cleaning up our act’. Repentance is admitting that such a thing is necessary and desirable.
But note that once this young man turned towards home as an expression of repentance, his father rushed to embrace him. No stern lectures, no probation period, no cool tolerance. Just passionate love. Just a party. A party not as a reward for good conduct (which is what upset the older stay-at-home brother), but as a gesture of extravagant love.
Waiting to become ‘good people’ will see us waiting forever. Coming home as we are will see us as guest of honour at a party thrown by our waiting father.