“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. 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.’
“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. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 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)
This familiar passage from the familiar story of the Prodigal Son is rightly seen as reminding us that we, who so often go off to the far country of ego- or fear-driven rebellion, are welcomed back by our Father when we come to our senses.
But perhaps this very comforting reality is not the whole story. We are invited repeatedly to be godly in our conduct: we are to be imitators of Jesus who embodied godliness. And so this familiar story reminds us that we are to be like that father.
So many people struggle with family members and friends who have gone in a sadly destructive or unwise direction. We long for them to get back on track and come home to God even if they might not always be able to come home to us.
If they do trudge back home, we are to welcome them as the father welcomed his prodigal son. We don’t make stern lectures or probationary periods a priority. We embrace and celebrate, and this may well involve having a forgiving heart for which we need a lot of divine help. And obviously that straying person needs to ‘repent’ or determine to come home otherwise no embrace or celebration is possible.
The bottom line is that God welcomes home the penitent sinner. We can scarcely do less.