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We’ve missed it: the buzz; the banter; the livestock; the stands. These past months we have been returning: to shops, restaurants, hairdressers and places of worship. And next week, we will return to the Show. It’s like a homecoming, back to people and to a place we cherish fond memories of.
Homecomings, however, are not always straightforward. Jesus tells a story about two sons, each of whom needs to be welcomed home. In different ways, both failed to understand how much their father loved them.
The younger son thinks that his dad doesn’t love him, so decides that the best life for him will be to get as far away from his father as he possibly can. In a most hurtful act, he asks his dad for his share of part of the farm that was his inheritance, effectively saying he wished his dad was dead! Then, “the younger son got together all he had [and] set off for a distant country” (Luke 15: 13).
The older son seems to appreciate his father more. He stays at home working on the farm. But don’t be fooled. This elder son thinks so little of his father, he doesn’t see himself as a son to be blessed, but as a slave who needs to earn his father’s favour instead. We read in Luke, “‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders’” (v 29).
In Jesus’ story, the father represents God our Father who loves us deeply, and the two sons represent us, who fail to appreciate God our Father’s love for us. Some of us are like the younger son: We think that if God exists he doesn’t care about us - and as a result, we live our lives as far away from God as we can.
Others of us are like the older son: We don’t trust God our Father to do the best for us, so we try to be really religious, doing everything that we think God wants us to do, hoping this will earn us His blessing. Now, back to Jesus’ story.
Despite failing to see how much their father loves them, he welcomes both his boys home. The younger son is welcomed back physically “... while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him ... the father said ... ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15: 20, 22-24).
The older son is welcomed back emotionally, but there is no record of him responding, as his dad says to him, “‘My son...you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’” (Luke 15: 31).
Like these two sons, we have all failed to appreciate how intensely God our Father loves us. As a result, some of us have lived our lives far away from him, while others have religiously tried to earn His favour. We have all got God so wrong. What we need to see is that the death of His Son Jesus on the cross is God’s heartfelt welcome to us. If we will trust in Jesus’ death to forgive how we have so deeply wronged our Father, and turn back to our Father in love, He will say to us, “Welcome back”.
Rev. Kenny Hanna is minister of Second Dromara Presbyterian Church and grew up on his family’s farm in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne.
If you would like to talk to someone about this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at [email protected] or call him on 028 9753 1234.
As you well know !