There was a very prosperous man with two sons so the story begins. Soon we see the younger coming to his father with a misguided request. “Please give me my share. I want what’s coming to me. I’ve got to get out of here. This farm’s too small for me. I’ve got some big plans.” It’s so clear he’s making a really dumb move. He’s clearly been loved, perhaps to excess, even spoiled. He’s probably experienced his father’s love repeatedly, and he’s been empowered by that love, so freely given. The boy is self-assured but blinded to love’s responsibilities. He trusts in a father who’s probably indulged him and trusted his initiative in the past. Imagine the love that allows this boy to take such a risk- even one as hair-brained as this one. And so he’s off with his share of the estate- in Hebrew law, one-third of the estate since he is the younger son. It’s an incredibly large amount of money. He’s full of ideas, big plans. And he wastes it all.
Now we hear that phrase - “dissolute living” - everything gone; he’s spent it all, every last tiny coin. All squandered. What’s worse, there’s a famine. It’s very bleak. And then, praise God, the boy gets desperate. O blessed desperation! Jesus tells us he's happy to feed pigs. Pigs! And so he makes himself totally unclean! Notice him, starving yet somehow too embarrassed even to snack on a few husks. And then this odd phrase: “No one made a move to give him anything.” Is he ever hungry, starving; but even more, it seems, he is longing for someone to notice; he’s yearning to be loved back to life. “No one made a move to give him anything.”
And then he has a new, brilliant idea. We might call it creative humility. “I need only be a servant, and then I won’t go hungry. I don’t deserve anything. I have sinned, messed up totally, but I will return. How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough.” See the exquisite freedom of those who can recall ever so slightly that they are loved, they have experienced themselves as beloved; see the confidence that undergirds a change of heart. “Yes, I will arise and return to my father.”
And then all mercy, the father’s joy, his dear old face buried in his son’s unwashed neck. He’ll hear none of the boy’s protestations, or if he does, he responds only with extravagant love. The son wants to be treated as a slave but instead, he will be treated as an honored guest - as the son he never ceased to be. “I just love you so much, and I am so happy to have you home with me again.”