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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández


Updated: Nov 22, 2022



An artist was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son his capture of the scene showing the open arms of a father and son as they are about to meet. The man who commissioned the work was about to pay the painter when he noticed an oddity - the father’s shoes - one red and one blue.

Confused, he asked the painter who simply smiled and nodded, “It’s all about God’s love. The father is in such a hurry that he simply grabbed the nearest two shoes he could find. He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes.”

When we exited our story last week, we left the prodigal son crawling around in a dust bowl battling an old sow for the last two kernels of corn as they struggled to survive during a time of immense famine. For us, the concept of famine is academic, our declarations of ‘I’m starved’ means detouring into the nearest Starbucks or Timmy’s. It’s such a problem for us that we don’t even have the strength to get out of our car, so we opt for the drive-through instead.

Not so, for those who have truly experienced famine. Instead, think Somalia or Sudan where, for months on end, rain doesn’t fall and crops don’t grow. That’s where we find ourselves in the story today – resources are gone and party lights are turned off. Left in the spotlight, a disillusioned, beaten man and a collection of hunger-crazed pigs, fighting for existence.

As we said last week, several warning bells had gone off that this is where he was heading. But those warnings were ignored. After all, as far as he was concerned, he had the resources and the moxie to make life work. And for a time, it seemed as if he did. And then the ATM emptied and friends disappeared. Heh, but he was resourceful. He had what it took to get back on his feet again. And then a famine hit. For which he had NO resources.

No one told him about that. Okay, perhaps they had but who concerns themselves with long-range forecasts when today’s weather is great? He certainly didn’t.

The truth is, famine times often do come into our lives: a ‘can’t-miss’ job closes up. An investment goes south. A friend betrays. A relationship crumbles. Death comes. Famine times. When the resource isn’t enough, skill isn’t enough and our I can do this personality isn’t enough.

Looking back, it’s apparent famine warnings were being given. Okay, perhaps not in the way we recognized, but they were there. Signals that warned, things aren’t as they appear. Like our slow redefinitions of God, just slight at first. The God I’ve come to believe in is all about love. Modernizing Him as One who wants me to be happy and so accepting that I’m, doing the best I can. No mention of holiness, no mention of sin.

Warning alarms signalling, Famine ahead! From the beginning of time, God has been ringing bells both to wake us and to invite us into the life He wants for us, yet coming on His terms, not mine. And time and again, we have pulled the cover over our heads, trying to deaden the noise.

Mankind has done it since the beginning like when Abel presented his acceptable sacrifice to God while Cain’s was rejected. And the result – death to one and bondage to the other.

But it didn’t have to go this way. What we are less likely to remember is God’s alarm warnings to Cain. (Gen 4:3-8) Cain, “Why are you angry? and Why is your face downcast?” Don’t you understand, I know your anger and I understand your disappointment but listen, ‘Cain’, “IF you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”

Your place of acceptance is no less than Abel’s. You are loved as much as he. You are valued as much as he. But there’s an IF - God’s acceptance means His terms not ours, obeying what He requires. It’s not adjusting His terms in order to better fit mine.

So there are the terms, ‘Cain’, IF you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”

And Cain, just in case you’re not getting it and you are wanting to push the snooze button and sleep past the warning, God sounds the alarm a second time. BUT IF you don’t do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Clear. Unmistakable. Undeniable. AND Completely ignored.

Cain, how stupid can you get? - this was God speaking. Do you think what He said wouldn’t come to pass?

And that brings us to the prodigal son and far more important to us.

We aren’t told how long this young man signed up for the pig race. But I think you’d be safe in guessing that he had taken several laps around the pen before he came to the conclusion that life HAD to be better than wrestling swine.

It took this wrestling match for him to understand he had spent far too long hiring himself out to other gods: gods of pleasure, gods of achievement, gods of being someone who would make his mark and the biggest god of all, that he would determine his destiny.

And where had those gods taken him? Into the pigpen, scratching out an existence trying to figure out who he was and what he lived for. It took that awareness until Scripture tells us that, “he came to his senses.

1 COMING TO HIS SENSES MEANT COMING TO THE PLACE WHERE HE WAS HONEST WITH HIMSELF - he was starving but his starvation was far greater than an empty stomach.

Being honest with ourselves is the same place we must come to, taking a good hard look where we are and asking ourselves whether we are digging in the dust, searching for a 2 niblet piece of ‘corn’ when a storehouse of supply remains unopened and unused.?

Often our 2 niblets are ERniblets – ‘ER’ gods we run after to find pleasure and fulfill our lives – to be richer, prettier, stronger, and happiER. Running after some ‘ER’ place, different from where we now are.

Being honest with myself means asking: What things am I running after?

What voices am I listening to that whisper, ‘Did God REALLY say?’ Into what places have I allowed my life to drift, where I trust those things more and trust God less?

II Coming to our senses means being honest with God.

Though it took an empty wallet and an empty life to get there, the son didn’t try to paint over what he had done. There was no ducking. No nuancing. Just confession without excuse. No rationalizing. No justifying. I have sinned against heaven and against you.

Sinned. Now there’s a word that’s ‘politically incorrect.

Misguided – sure. Unwise – okay. Deceived – absolutely. But sinned? A little harsh! Let’s tone it down a bit.

Some years ago I worked with a group tasked with revising some child abuse prevention material. To be clear, these were good people, deeply committed to child safety. Among the changes almost everyone felt compelled to make was the elimination of the word, “wrong” and to exchange it with the word, ‘inappropriate’. After all, we don’t make wrong decisions, we make inappropriate ones. We don’t say sinful words, we speak inappropriately. We don’t have sinful attitudes, we have inappropriate ones. And acting sinfully? No, just acting unwisely.

Because, when it comes to us, ‘we’re good people’, so we don’t like the way the word sin fits. For others, perhaps. For us? not a chance.

That’s the view the elder brother took. A sinner? - hardly. He hadn’t shamed his father. He hadn’t emptied the liquor cabinet or made the local pimp rich. Not him. He just went about his ‘earn the right points’, ‘do the right thing’ sort of way.

Externally, all polished up and internally, all self-righteously resentful. Residing in close proximity to the Father, but living far from Him. Living ‘all right’ but in truth, living ‘all wrong’. Sadly, as we later see, only one son experienced the father’s embrace and it wasn’t him.

I’m not certain if you’ve ever thought how hard returning to the father would have been. The shame he poured out on his father was an offence of the highest order. Had their conflict remained behind closed doors, perhaps private arrangements might have been made, but in order to meet the son’s request, ‘For Sale’ signs had to be posted. Generational property sold. Livestock liquidated at fire sale low. And in those moments, private discord turned into public spectacle. And after a flurry of transactions, the son, money in hand, sets off to enjoy everything life has to offer.

And left behind - a rejected father wounded and in pain. His shame playing out every time he passed neighbours seeing possessions once his. Echoes of his son’s contempt on constant replay. Meanwhile, the son intent on having the time of his life. Music loud. Liquor plentiful. Women just a moment away from his bidding. No pleasure denied. The expected response to the prodigal’s demand should have been a left-handed slap across the face and then a disowning of his son.

And left behind - a rejected father wounded and in pain. His shame playing out every time he passed neighbours seeing possessions once his. Echoes of his son’s contempt on constant replay. Meanwhile, the son intent on having the time of his life. Music loud. Liquor plentiful. Women just a moment away from his bidding. No pleasure denied. The expected response to the prodigal’s demand should have been a left-handed slap across the face and then a disowning of his son.

So the thought of serving as a servant in his father’s house? A faint hope at best.

Imagine his thoughts about how their reunion would go - ‘Would banishment be enacted? Would others rise up and do what his father hadn’t?’ Of one thing, he was certain. He would offer no excuse because he had none. If he were allowed to speak, his request would be simple, “If you will, make me a servant.” And so he gets up and goes.

And watching in the distance - a father! Doing what he has done every day, squinting into the distance. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. And on this day, his hope is rewarded as on the horizon, a silhouette struggles to hold up under a blazing desert sun. Shuffling. Weak. Dirty. The father knows the walk even though the swagger is gone. And so he runs. Faster than he has ever run before. The pain of memories - forgotten. The loss of land - forgiven. The concern for dignity – forsaken. Because this is a time to run because the return is always greeted with a rescue.

Forgiveness does not wait when a repentant offender is on his way home. Forgiveness doesn’t wait lest voices of guilt turn the offender away. No, forgiveness runs because the Forgiver’s desire to embrace is greater than the offender’s need for an embrace.

Since Creation, God’s heart has always been running to us. No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done. He has always watched, always waited for us to ‘come to our senses’ and step toward Him. No matter our failures. No matter our sin. Oh, there will be lots of voices that will tell us differently - our guilt is too great; our sin too big; the affair too wrong; the betrayal too deep; our shame too real.

But as the prodigal discovered, God’s mercy outruns justice. Always has, and always will. No matter the offense. No matter the sin. No matter the shame. Because God’s love is greater than our sin. His forgiveness is greater than our offense. No matter what our offense may be.

Understand, when the father runs, he is exposing himself to shame. In Middle Eastern culture, an older man does not run. He would never hike up robes and expose himself. But this father is unconcerned about the shame. He always has been. Because He is running to forgive.

It’s the same reason, Jesus despised the shame – the scourging, the spit, the cursing, the blows, the nakedness, the Cross so He could forgive the unforgivable – people just like us. And in that moment the son sees the father run, he knows all he needs to know. He had been forgiven. There would be a place for him.

But in his wildest dreams, he had no idea what the place would be. Look at the picture we are given in the returning son. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this, my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” Lk 15:21,22.

When the father instructed the servants to get the best robe for his son, he went far beyond forgiveness. The robe spoken of was the father’s festal robe. It certainly wasn’t intended for someone who had lost the family’s money and engaged in activities that violated everything he had been raised to believe. There was nothing about the son that merited this gift. But merited or not, it was what the father wanted him to receive.

Put on him long before he was cleaned up. Long before he made the presentation ready.

But there was more. The father’s ring signalled something even greater. This celebration wasn’t going to be a one-night dance of joy or even a one-week event. The father’s ring was the ring of authority. Its wearer could freely buy and sell based on the father’s resources; the ring guaranteed authority for any transaction. Don’t miss this, the son had already been given all the wealth to which he might have claimed but, if you think there is some end to the father’s supply from which he wants you to draw, you are sadly mistaken.

Whatever wealth you thought was enough, is but a fraction of what an embracing God has for us, Eye has not seen, the ear has not heard, nor has it entered the man what God has in store for those who are called according to His purpose.”

My child, do you understand that no matter how alluring you think the distant land is, it offers nothing in comparison to what God has in mind? Son, daughter - welcome home.

And one more thing, just in case you missed it, you’ve not come home as a slave. “Put sandals on his feet”. The only people who went barefoot were slaves and so in the declaration, “Don’t forget the sandals”, the son was ushered into a relationship beyond anything he could have imagined. Living in the servants’ quarters or setting up camp in the entryway was never in the father’s plan for the son.

He was “totally and completely forgiven!” That’s why the son had a new ring on his finger, a new robe on his back and new sandals on his feet. Everything provided was new. Understand,

when God forgives, He doesn’t just forgive us FROM something, He forgives us TO something – a NEW LIFE in Christ. Behold if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, Behold, ALL THINGS have become new. 2 Cor 5:17. That means having a new power to live life. That means a new and living hope. That means a new and transformed mind. That means a new destiny.

How much we miss when we just walk through the entry door and only take up residence as being forgiven in Christ. Forgiven but not living in the power and blessings of that forgiveness. Forgiven but not experiencing, “Every spiritual blessing in Christ”. Forgiven but not living in the power and freedom of that forgiveness.

For a moment, let me give you a picture how some of us live this out. Imagine, this son returning. Dignity restored. His room outfitted with everything he could want, a far cry from squealing pigs and rock hard soil. Nearby a bed, covered with brand new sheepskins, offering rest he hasn’t had for a long time.

However, every night he unfolds the clothes of his former life and puts them on. Before long, the smells transport him back to his former life. When it’s time to sleep, he doesn’t allow himself the luxury of a bed. Instead, tucking himself into a fetal position in the corner of the room. The new available but living in the old.

Is it possible that this is what some of us are doing - clinging to the old while trying to embrace the new? Forgiven but not really living as one who’s been forgiven.

When we came to Christ, God exchanged our old for His new and unlike us, He doesn’t hang onto old glossies as reminders of wrongs done and errors made. He isn’t concerned with what was. He is only interested in what is and what will be. That is called FORGIVENESS. Complete, full, and without reservation. And the Holy Spirit has given us so we can live in that new!

If God is prepared to do that, are you ready to do the same for yourself and burn the old clothes you’ve been hanging onto?

To finally, come home and live as His greatly loved child in the Father’s House.

All possible because of the Father’s blood-stained, mismatched shoes that ran to bring you home.

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