When our Lord told the story about a father who had two sons, he didn’t mean to imply that these were the father’s only children. Rather he condensed the story to address the needs of his immediate audience. In truth, the father had quite a large expanding family, and sadly many of his children over the years had also drifted away from home. You see, things had not always been idyllically peaceful at home.
As in the case of his two eldest sons, his initial tactic for beckoning his separated children was to wait patiently, lovingly, and prayerfully for them to come to their senses and return. And his second son did just that. His eldest son, however, had made no effort whatsoever to retrieve any of his siblings, as we also know.
In time, the father decided to take action. He wrote letters to his separated children, insisting they come home, for away from home they would never find true happiness. A few responded, but most didn’t.
He eventually convinced his two eldest sons and the few who had returned to go out and bring the others home. This worked for some, but again, not for most. Unfortunately, the elder sons, and those who had already returned, sometimes were too harsh in how they commanded their separated siblings to come home, warning them that unless they did it would be impossible for them to find happiness. As before, a few responded, but most didn’t.
In time, the separated children had families of their own and formed homes of their own far away from their father and their siblings’ families, who with him believed that their separated siblings and their families were lost to happiness. In time, some of the siblings’ children and grand-children no longer knew about their grandfather and their need to return home. Yet, there was always an inexplicable restlessness.
Then a powerful arch enemy invaded the region, causing turmoil, devastation, poverty, and hunger. This forced the father and his remaining children and families living with him to band together with his separated children and their families as a united defense against their common enemy. In time, their combined strength pushed back the enemy, allowing them all to live, at least temporarily, at peace.
In the process, the father discovered something he had not expected. His separated sons and daughters, and their expanding families, were inexplicably happy. They didn’t enjoy all the blessings of being at home with him, yet they were happy, some even happier than some who had remained home with him.
This sent him to his knees. And he remembered, that he had been called to speak the truth to his children with love. He had indeed spoken the truth, but he had not always done so with love.
So, now that he and his separated children were at least on speaking terms, he began to talk less about their need to come home. Instead, he chose to focus whatever time he had with them on celebrating the happiness that they shared together. In doing so, he discovered something else: that whatever happiness his children and their families had, even apart from him, was mysteriously from him, for they were flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. Full happiness subsisted in his home, but whatever happiness they were experiencing apart from home originated from their continuing connections with home. And he was exceedingly glad.
Over time, as he set aside his demand that they return home and instead loved them, they surprisingly, one by one, began to return.
But, as in the portion of the story Jesus told, the elder brothers were not all happy with their father’s change of thinking, for they had given up so much either to remain or return. Some thought he had gone crazy; others thought he had compromised, rejecting what had always been true.
And the father said to them, “Sons, daughters, grand children. You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It is fitting to make merry and be glad, for these your siblings and their families were lost but now they have been found. Yes, they are not fully home, yet, but I have come to understand their separation in a different, more positive way, and whatever happiness they have, though it may not be full or complete, yet comes from the same source as ours and ultimately will draw them home. We must entrust their full return to God, but in the mean time, we must stand beside them in the faith, hope, and love that we share, always pointing them to the fullness that we have received with joy.”