“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’” (Luke 15:17)
After coming to himself and remembering his former home, the prodigal returned to the forgiving embrace of his father. Against all cultural expectations, the father ran to meet the prodigal, restored him to the family, and invited others to rejoice in the news. Not everyone shared the father’s forgiving heart and so also could not share his joy. But it is still a great story about an even greater Father the world desperately needs to know.
Imagine with me that eight months after the prodigal returned home, in a far country, his son was born to a female prostitute. She met the prodigal while he squandered his property in reckless living. When her owner realized that she was pregnant, he severely beat her, trying to end the pregnancy and secure his future income. Everything in her wanted to flee, but she did not even have the strength to rise to her feet.
The child survived, and the owner tortured the woman in other ways. He promised to kill the baby if it was a girl and to enslave the baby if it was a boy. As the pregnancy progressed, she mourned for herself and for her child. She never needed to come to herself, because no amount of sober reflection can make sense of senseless evil.
She was relieved when another servant girl came to her bedside to tell her it was a boy. This meant that she could at least hold her baby. Then they looked at each other, eyes fixed with empathy, that two women would have occasion to celebrate because this child was not a girl.
And though this boy would live, what kind of life would it be, she wondered?
The prodigal remembered his home and returned. The prodigal’s son will never experience a home. The prodigal experienced the forgiving love of his father. The prodigal’s son will never know his father. The prodigal was celebrated by all but one. The prodigal’s son is celebrated by only one. When the prodigal’s father dies, he will receive again an inheritance. When the prodigal dies, nothing will change for his son.
If this were a script, I would have the prodigal encounter his teenage son in a marketplace. He would see himself in his son and realize what he had done. He would run to his son and beg his forgiveness. He would promise to be the father he never was and to take care of him and his mother for the rest of their days. He would promise to provide a home and do whatever it took to win their trust. He would work to free other women from prostitution and advocate for the rights of little girls.
But this is not a script, so I cannot write the ending. This is just life for men and women I know and see on a daily basis. As we seek to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, the far countries, we must seriously consider what it means to present the gospel to all the prodigal’s sons and daughters. They do not have a father or memories of a loving home. They are not wondering if they will be forgiven. They are wondering if they are even loved.