When you are leaving, you don’t realise that you may just be taking the longest route to get back home. But he was so aware of it now. The miles had seemed short and the road had promised so much on the day he walked out of his father’s house. Money and excitement had put t5he milestones close together, the air had been crisp, the sun shone brightly and there were no holes in his shoes. There had been fine wine to slake the dust of the road, and fine companions had been easily bought. The far country hadn’t seemed very far away at all!
But now it was different; so different that he would have been tempted to pinch himself to check its reality if several other parts of his body hadn’t ached so much. Odd really, since on this return journey he had nothing to carry except himself, a broken heart, and a massive sense of shame. But the road was dusty, the sun was hot, and the heat beat down on him remorselessly, like another weight to bear. His father’s house, that place of blessing and prosperity, seemed so very far away, as if every single step was climbing a great mountain.
And it was a mountain. Oh yes, the path was reasonably level, just the usual meanderings up and down hill, but the journey inside him was very different. He might have been leaving the place of his shame, but in doing so he was facing the reality of his shame, and discovering just how dark it was. It is a very steep climb to arise from the pigpen, knowing that you still carry it in your soul. The uncleanness had eaten into him, until there was no part of himself that was not corroded by disgrace. How could ever go back?
He had left in such high spirits, glad to cast aside the sober responsibilities of youth for the pleasures of self-indulgent carelessness. Only now did he realise that the ones who are free from care, and free from caring, are the very ones who should take the most care, for their path is very slippery. And he had slid down with the exhilaration of a mad child all the way to the bottom, into the pigpen of his misery. When a man gets to envying the very pigs for their food, there is not much lower he can go.
But he never made it the whole way home on those stone-bruised weary feet, for there was his father, rushing towards him as if he had to grab him fast before he could vanish again. But how could he look into those eyes? The light of love that beamed out of him was so terrible brightness served only to show his own darkness more clearly. He had to get the words out before he could turn and flees this terrifying forgiveness “Father I have sinned before Heaven and before you, I’m no longer worthy to be your son …”
But he never got all the words out. Everything he was, every wretched putrid sin that clung to him like a leper’s rags, was swept away by this relentless love. Before he knew what was happening, the robe was around his shoulders, the ring was on his hand, and the fatted calf was being led away to the slaughter. It was only then that he began to understand. Here at home, under the very roof where he was born, his father’s love had been waiting for him the whole time. But he had had to go via the far country to find it.