the father’s pur­suit

You can never go home but home comes for you.

Reality Check

So far we’ve talked about how the prodigal son could not return until he turned around. But like we also said, wanting to go home and actually making it all the way home are two different things. Think about it again. He had no money. He had no friends. He even felt like he had lost his identity as a son and was instead trying to go back home as a servant instead. So tell me again, how does someone who has burned every bridge cross the raging river and make it back home? Sometimes we take for granted that this is always possible. It most certainly is not. There is someone in the Bible who looks terribly similar to the son in the parable. His name is Esau. Listen to the way he is described in Hebrews 12:16-17. Does he not sound just like the prodigal son? And yet the Bible says that he could not make it back home. It was not because he didn’t try. He searched and searched with many tears but he could not find a way back home.

Life is not a fairy tale. The story Jesus is telling here runs counter to everything we see in the life around us. It runs counter even to a biblical archetypal example. On their own, people who leave home not only do not come back and they cannot come back. Even when they try to come back, they are always received as servants and not as the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers or sisters that they were when they left. So when Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son who actually made it back home as a son, you have to ask yourself: how, how did this son of all people actually make it back? Jesus is not a telling a fairy tale here about how things just magically get better. There are always consequences for our actions. Good consequences over which we rejoice. Or bad consequences that make us weep terribly over and over, over what might have been, if only…


So it is not a sure or forgone conclusion that there is a way back. It is better never to have left at all. The way of repentance is not guaranteed. It is better not to sin. Yet looking at Luke 15:20, it seems so easy. The prodigal son gets up to go home and as soon as the sentence ends, even before the movement ends, he is already embraced by the father. When does he actually meet the father on the road? Again here Jesus is purposefully vague. He says, “While he was still at a distance…” What a vague statement. Had the son made it to the door? Was he 5 miles away, 20 miles away, 1000 miles away? And if you have ever had a friend be angry at you or offend you then you know there are many kinds of distance. You can be in the same room, sitting next to each other on the same couch and be galaxies apart. Physical closeness doesn’t always obliterate emotional distance. What about spiritual distance? What about a marriage in which there is physical and emotional intimacy but on Sunday, the wife goes to church but the husband stays home.

If you read further, in Luke 15:21-22, you will see that he had even misunderstood the love of his father. Even in the arms of the Father, the son was still desiring to be a servant. He still did not think he could be a son. What a slight! What an affront to the Father’s love! To think that this Father would be content to receive back a servant instead of getting back a son. But have you not experienced this before? You’ve forgiven and embraced someone you love but they still see themselves as less than who they used to be. Maybe you still see them as less than they used to be. It feels like they left but only a shell of them came back. You see, even in his most genuine repentance, even in the arms of his father, the prodigal son was still far far away. No wonder the Bible says of Esau that he could not find repentance. Even our deepest righteousness (and obedience is the only righteous action greater than repentance), we still mess up terribly.

Now maybe you see that the son was far, far and too far away to ever find his way back home. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, even at the door, even in the house, even in the Father’s embrace, he was still far far far away. So I ask again, and I am weeping when I ask this, “How, how, how did he manage to make it back home?”

No Way Back

Let us clarify the problem even more. When I speak of home, I don’t mean a house. I mean a home. I mean an identity. A place where you belong and not because of anything that you do. A place where your identity and your name have an intimate relationship. When you are at work or at school, everyone calls you by name but they’re not really calling you. They’re calling a shadow of you, an approximation of you. Outside your home, your name is often just grease for the wheels. Your name is just a way of moving the world along. But at home, when they call your name, they are calling you. Few things are better in this world than being known. This is why little children cry and wail and can’t be consoled when their tyrannical parents force them to go to school. This is why you can’t wait to go back home even after only being away at work for 8 hours. Now if you feel a dull ache just by being physically distant from home, how great then must be the trauma when you leave and disavow your identity and everything you are? This is what the son left behind. He fled with an inheritance but he left his name.

And this son is not a dreamer. He knows he cannot have his name again. He knows he can never go back home. He knows this so well that he doesn’t aim for the home. He aims only for the house. As a servant, he would at least be in the house. In this the son echos David Psalms 84:10. So how did the son make it back home? How could the prodigal son ever have crossed so great a distance in a single sentence? “And he arose and came to his father.” Well, after exploring my question and some of its nuances and corners, let us finally answer it.

The answer is simple. He did not. The son never made it home on his own. He could never have made it home, on his own. On your own, you can never go back home. You don’t have the power to. Husbands, as much as they try, cannot return to the wives they have offended. Sons, of their own power, cannot reconcile with their fathers. This is the other side of repentance we fear to look at. You may be able to turn around but you do not have the power or the vision to find the way back home. But before we cry in despair, Jesus reveals in Luke 15:20 that there is one way back home and thankfully, it does not depend on your power, desire or ability.

Bringing The Home

The preceding paragraphs were not meant to discourage. They were meant to show the enormity of task of restoration. Now let us look at the second half of Luke 15:20. “But while he was still a long way off..” I think we’ve established that no matter how close he got to the house, he would always be “a long way off” from home. Now look what happens next: “, the father saw him, felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” The father then ignores his request to become a servant and fully restores him as a son, Luke 15:22-24.

This then is the only way to bring a lost friend, son, daughter, wife, husband, brother and sister back home. They will never make it back on their own. But as soon as you see that God has helped them turn around, RUN to them. Do as the father did. Embrace them physically, emotionally and spiritually. Give them back their name. Give them back their robe (identity). Give them back their place in the home. Make a new covenant with them by giving them back their ring. Renew your vows. Do not treat them as someone who is dead or as someone who is with you but dead to you. Treat them like Jesus told Mary and Martha to treat Lazarus after He brought him back from the dead John 11:44. Remove their grave clothes and give them new ones. Remove from them the clothes of a prodigal and put on them the robes of a daughter, a brother, a father, a wife, a husband, a friend, a pastor, a sister… No one who has left home can ever make it home again but those who love them can bring home to them.

This is the real tragedy of sin. When the one you love has left, you cannot force them to come back. You cannot call them back. And when they are ready to come back, they cannot find their way back. The chasm, the gap between the two of you is real. But praise the Lord for love. For by love, you, who was left behind, you, who was hurt, have the strength to cross a chasm! You have the power to bring home to the one who ran away and was lost. Otherwise, they can never come home again.


Doing this is not easy. They may have hurt you greatly by saying and doing unspeakable things. And then there is always the question running through your mind, “What if they just do it again?” How can you tell when repentance is real or fake? Shouldn’t you wait till you are sure before giving back to them what they threw away? Isn’t it wiser to guard your heart so that you don’t get hurt again? So many questions and yet now you have just discovered that God will use you as the answer to the tears you prayed many times and long into the night. I don’t know the answer to those questions. All I know is that the Father, even after being hurt by His son, chose to be an answer by loving him anyway. Surely there were questions but He did not let the questions paralyze Him. Instead, He chose to be moved by compassion (20). And compassion will give you greatest speed. Is it easier to see what God has done for us Romans 5:6-8? While they are far, God pursues the ones who wrecked His Heart.

There is an answer then to all the questions. The answer is love. Now before you start ignoring me, remember the physics of love. Love is when you use the distance between yourself and another person to get closer to that person. So when you see this loved one who seems to be trying to come back home. Observe them. Measure how far they are. Then use that distance to run to them. This is what the Father did in verse 20 and 22. By asking to be a servant in Luke 15:21, the son showed the Father how far away he was. So the Father, again, runs to his son in Luke 15:22 by making him a son. If there is insincerity in their repentance, then this is another distance. Run to them there also and bring home to them either with a word of admonition or a gentle reminder.

To measure the distance though, you have to know two things. First, you have to know where you are. Second, you have to know where they are. Simple right? Until you remember that he shattered you and like a dropped vase, you can’t see where all your pieces have gone. Where is home when they’ve left and gone? How can you, the hurt one, remember your name when it has been so long since you heard them say it? The truth is, they didn’t only take their inheritance when they left. They took your name as well. And so after all this talk about bringing home to them, we come to another harsh reality: even you don’t know where this home is. You don’t even know who you are. How can you know where you are when you don’t even know who you are? Love is impossible wherever you do not know yourself Mark 12:30-31.

But what if in all the many years, weeks, seconds that they were gone, there was Someone else who knew your name and kept telling you who you are and who they are? What if after they left, Someone remained at home and because He remained, you could always find your home? What if there was One who kept your heart soft and your limbs limber and strong so that you could run to them while they are still far off? What if there was One who could lift your head Psalms 3:3 and help you hear them crying in repentance Jeremiah 3:21? Pray and pray and pray to God. As you pray, He will do all these things for you. He will preserve your home. He will preserve your name. He will help you know where you are and He will show you where they are. So that when the day comes, you will be able to measure the distance and RUN!

“… for from the first day that you set your heart to under­stand and hum­bled your­self before your God, your words have been heard …”
- Daniel 10:12

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.