Hello, my name is Phineas…some people call me the “prodigal son.” At least, they use to. You see, yesterday, I came home. It took me about 3 weeks to make the journey back from the far country, but I made it. And honestly, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. You probably heard about the party my father gave for me. He told the whole region that his son had returned from the dead.
And, here’s the deal, I really think I have.
Let me explain. I left the far country because I was tired of being covered in pig slop, drool, and feces. I was tired of being hungry. I thought more than once of just killing myself. But, I remembered how my father’s servants have food, are clean, and have a place to live. So, that was my plan. As I journeyed home, I worked it all out in my head – exactly what to say and how to say it. You see, I thought at the time, “I know how the old man works. I know if I ask it just right, he’ll give in.” And voila, I’ll be able to be a servant, maybe work with the livestock or in the fields. It was a perfect plan.
Until it wasn’t, until I turned past the sycamores a few hundred yards from what was my home. The house, the pastureland, the fields all came into view. For one final second, I thought that my plan was genius.
But, then I saw him…dad…running up the road. I had never seen him run, and honestly, at his age, I didn’t think he could run, but…he was. Somehow he saw me before I saw him. While I was busy drinking in the first views of the land and barn and animals, he saw me. And he started to run! He must have been a hundred yards from the house when I saw something out of the corner of my eye…running to me.
Well, I think you had heard that bit, too. But, here’s where it gets interesting. Honestly, I thought he was angry. Why else would he be running to me. I began to doubt my plan…it might require a little more groveling than I expected…it might not go the way I planned. I mean, jiminy, my father was running.
Now, I said that I think I actually did come back from the dead. Well, as he got closer, I saw tears and a wild look of something other than anger…I wondered: could he be glad to see me? In that second, something started to pivot, like the rattling of dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. I started to forget my lines…I started sweating…my knees started to buckle. I really didn’t know what was happening…here…to me…with him! He got to me, and though my throat was constricting and it felt like my tongue was swelling to the size of a mango, I tried to get my lines out.
But, he wasn’t listening…he wasn’t listening to what I had to say…he wouldn’t give my plan the time of day…this wasn’t going to go they way I thought…
Now, it’s not that he was ignoring me. Far from it – he wouldn’t stop kissing me and hugging me and pulling back so he could look at me. He put both hands on my face and sobbed…weeping but, oddly enough, with a smile on his face. What was happening?!?!
He took my cap off and brushed pig filth out of my hair with his gentle hand. He rubbed my partly calloused and partly raw hands between his own, tenderly saying, “Oh Phin, your hands…oh, my boy.” He moved around me 360, then 720, then 1080 degrees, never taking his kind hand off of me as he looked me over, sighing at my sores and singing, with quivering joy, at my face: “Oh my son, my Phineas, my boy! You are alive! You ARE alive! YOU,” then breathlessly, like a whisper, “are back from the dead.”
And I was. Seeing my father’s face. Hearing of his love for me. Feeling his tender hand on me. In that very moment, all I can say is that I became alive! And, I didn’t realize how dead I was. Not dead from pig slime. Not dead from empty pockets or failed plans. I was dead because I had been away from my father. Even before I left home, I was dead, I was far from him even in the same room.
I didn’t understand.
I was blind
I behaved like a beast
I was dead
But, in his face and in his presence, I came alive!
The feast last night was great. I sat next to him most of the time, reclining on his bosom. I found myself looking at him similar to how he was looking at me when I first returned. Noticing the wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled. Noticing how kind he was to every person he spoke with. How eager he was to make sure everyone ate and drank, pouring wine and serving lamb in between being with me.
At one point, he went out to talk to my brother, Abijah. He and I have never gotten along. I’m certainly as much to blame as anyone for that. This evening, I hope I can find him and apologize, ask for forgiveness, you know.
But this morning I spent eating a hearty breakfast and then walking around the house and the land with father. I got to help with the livestock and with the new well we’re digging. What a joy to be able to just be with my father and work alongside him and the other workers. I use to abominate chores of any kind, and eventually, in defiance, I refused to work…that’s what the servants were for.
Today, I find them pleasing and energizing. This afternoon, I’m going to help bring in the last of the harvest. What’s funny is that, yesterday, I thought I’d be helping with these things as a slave. I was actually dreading it, but I knew I’d earn my keep. What a difference a few hours make. I’m now a son, risen from the dead, joying in my father’s work.
As I walk, I notice there are people who are looking at me funny. While no one knows for sure what I did in the far country, it’s easy enough to imagine. There was a time when what others might think of me ruled my life. And, it’s not that I don’t want them to think well of me, but all of a sudden, I don’t feel like I have to live in the dark. At the right time, I’ll share about my journey.
There is shame there…but, I’m learning that those things don’t define me anymore. The problem’s always been that I cared more about my reputation, my choice, my ability to define who I am and what is right. You might call it self-idolatry. Self, self, self! What a prison. Now, I can tell everyone, “I’ve searched the world for pleasure, but only found true, lasting, and life-giving joy in my father’s house.” He’s so wise and good. I can trust him to define me, to define right and wrong, to define all of life. And there’s a lot of peace in that. I use to scratch and claw and scheme. I was scared all the time, often I didn’t know what of. Today, I’m alive!
Well, I better get going. It’s time for lunch, and I’m craving some of the rich foods from my father’s table. In fact, why don’t you come too. I’d love for you to meet my father. You’ll love him. And, I know this for sure, he will love you.