The pigs aren’t his family.
But he smells like a pig, is as filthy as a pig, and worse, eats like a pig. No, he doesn’t eat like some gluttonous swine, but he dines with them as if they share a table. Today’s menu is slightly out of routine: moldy leftovers and this weird-colored grain.
Is that a worm? The young man cringes. Is that a worm on a bed of … maggots?
He spits out the food, quivering and close to tears. How could his wretched employer reduce him to a pitiful slave? And these obscene pigs? His neighbors would condemn him for associating with these animals! Hey, at least you’re nicer to me, he concedes to his “adoptive” brothers as they devour the disgusting food. The pigs are not the worst company to have, but these grunting creatures are nothing compared to what he had back home.
It suddenly seems like a distant thought, an alternate reality. Another lifetime he cannot relive again.
Too late for me now. The young man wipes the sludge from his lips as he rises from his haunches. The pigs beside him snort and whine, gobbling up the leftover food like a tasty royal banquet. His stomach growls.
Food. Must have food.
Wait, doesn’t home have food?
The young man has a brother. His mind spins to the past.
That older one was a nuisance sometimes, but he was faithfully the protective one. And their father? He was always there, always loving, always providing for them. He was a man of a hearty face, a gentle tongue, and a kind heart that the young man took advantage of.
The memories flash before him in nostalgic visions. He was always safe back home. Always warm. Always full. Always loved.
And he threw away all of that.
Running away with his inheritance wasn’t freedom after all. No, he wasn’t born an orphan, but he was as good as one. Running away meant becoming an orphan by choice. If regret could be worn like a stone around his neck, then he wore a boulder. And he was sinking into the earth from the weight of it.
Aren’t Father’s servants treated better than this? The idea dawns on him like a flicker of light.
He abandons the pig pen, says his not-so-heartfelt goodbyes to the livestock, and travels back to his father’s rich property. As he walks on the dusty road, he practices his script again and again.
I don’t deserve to be your son anymore. I have wronged you. Please take me in as your servant instead.
He looks at his dirty hands. I chose this. I’m as good as this dirt. He knows he will never be his father’s son again. He committed the crime of utmost dishonor by taking his inheritance in advance. The law required death on his head! He’d be lucky to be taken in as a servant and not a criminal.
As his father’s property comes into view, the young man falters. His footsteps slow down in agonizing movements, his doubts coming upon him like a storm. What if I am unwelcomed?
Suddenly, a figure comes bounding onto the path. A man, an elderly one, runs without shame. He runs and he runs towards the young man, robe fluttering around his exposed legs. The servants in the field blush at the sight of their master making a fool of himself. Established men do not run like this. They simply do not. But he is no ordinary man, and the prodigal son knows him well.
“F-father!” The young man gasps.
Distance closes between them in a matter of seconds. The next moment unravels in a blur of hugs and tears. The apologies of the young man tumble from his lips in incoherent mumbles. His Father’s words silence him.
“I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve always been waiting. “
His father holds him tight, rivulets of tears flowing down his cheeks. “We must celebrate! To see you alive again, my son! ”
The words drop from his Father’s mouth without hesitation. And then it hits him: I’m still your son. After all this time, you still call me your son! The dreadful weight melts from his shoulders.
His father embraces him without a hint of condemnation. Love takes the form of arms welcoming him back into a familiar bosom. Love takes the shape of his father forgiving him for his mistakes. Love adopts him into the fold again. It doesn’t matter how far he has run away. All that matters now is that he is home. He is back home.
“Welcome home, Son. Welcome back to your family.”
It’s never too late to come home.
As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to turn back. Our Heavenly Father watches and waits and longs to wrap His arms around you again. Our faithful Father welcomes you in perfect love, in perfect forgiveness, where second beginnings are just as precious as the first—even more glorious.
You will always belong to His family.
All that’s left for you to do is to abandon the pig pens and come back home.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 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 fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.