“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! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“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. (NLT)
This familiar episode of this familiar parable is on one level a heart-warming illustration of reconciliation. But it teaches us a very profound truth about forgiveness and repentance. Sometimes we think that our repentance somehow earns us God’s forgiveness. If I do my bit, God does his bit.
It is not quite like that. Our repentance simply allows God’s prior offer of forgiveness to have practical effect. My repentance doesn’t change God’s desire to forgive, it just makes reconciliation possible. The father in this parable didn’t stop loving his son. He didn’t decide to be merciful as soon as he spied him on the distant horizon. He had already chosen to be merciful; he had always wanted to act in love towards his wayward son.
The son’s homecoming meant the mercy and forgiveness and love could be showered on him. My repentance is not the means by which I get God to forgive me. It is the means by which I am able to enjoy the benefits of that forgiveness. Repentance is not my attempt to persuade God to welcome me. It is a decision to receive that welcome which always awaits me.
Repentance is a homecoming. God’s offer of forgiveness assures me I have a home awaiting me.