The prodigal son is probably one of the better known of Jesus’ parables. It tells of a young man who leaves home, goes astray, regrets his decisions, and eventually returns to the loving, warm welcome of his father. It’s a theme that’s been retold countless times in literature and life, portrayed in art, danced in ballet, and even played in contemporary music, such as the Rolling Stones’ cover on their album Beggar’s Banquet. It’s a story of humanity that transcends nationality, creed, place, or even era, a story that is as poignant and relatable today as it was two millennia ago.

In many respects, it’s a story about decisions. The young man’s fateful decision to leave home, wasting his life and inheritance, is part of the narrative; then there are the better decisions, when he comes to his senses and makes up his mind to return.

The father also has decisions to make. Should he accept his son with open arms or chide and punish him for his mistakes? And it’s this part of the story that contains a detail that is often overlooked.

Imagine the scene: the young man, thin, bedraggled, and rather the worse for wear from his terrible experiences of dire poverty. The father, crying tears of joy as he embraces his boy. Yet the moment when the father opens his heart to welcome his son is not as we often picture it, with the son kneeling, pleading for forgiveness, expressing his repentance for going astray. No, this crucial moment comes earlier:

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

His boy hadn’t yet spoken a word, but the father—who had no doubt gone through anguish and heartache for many months or even years—didn’t hesitate. In fact, he didn’t even wait until his son had arrived; he ran out to meet him.

This is a picture of God’s unconditional love. He doesn’t wait for us to say exactly the right words, He doesn’t look at our bedraggled state or how life has left us the worse for wear and stand back until we clean up our act. He doesn’t chide us for past mistakes and wrong decisions. From the moment we turn to Him, He receives us with open arms and forgives us.

Romans 8:37-39 ESV / No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 3:16 ESV / “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV / For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.


  1. Tara
    November 12, 2015, 4:33 am   /  Reply

    The one important detail regularly overlooked in this story is the patience the father exhibited for his son’s decisions, lessons and the time in which it took to return home. All too often we determine timelines and schedules based on our wants and desires and fail to realize that while we, as children of God, have free will to control ourselves we are not able to control time and how others use it. This means patience is most important in the journey of life.

  2. vera
    November 22, 2015, 2:18 pm   /  Reply

    Good write up! however, another area we may perhaps consider, is being able to accept our mistakes and turn back. The prodigal son acknowledged he had made a mistake and decided to return to his father.
    Some of us out of pride, will choose to remain in such state as the prodigal son was. As Christians, we should be humble and learn to accept our mistakes. The Bible acknowledged this in 2 Chronicles 7 vs 14. May God bless all of us in Jesus name. Amen!

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