Peace be with you!
A broken relationship can be disabling to individuals who care deeply for each other, but sometimes a relationship has run its course.
There are many reasons why relationships become broken and eventually end. We have all seen or experienced relationships that have become unhealthy for the people in them. Breaking a person’s trust, growing apart, or even different viewpoints can cause a relationship to be broken. Individuals who have suffered a broken relationship can feel paralyzed or disabled for a time. There is a period of time when the individuals getting divorced have to find and redefine their identity; they have to separate themselves from the other party and become their own person again, something which takes mental strength and courage. Sometimes, people may fight to find a way to repair a broken relationship, but it takes time and energy and can wear a person out.
Each relationship is a journey, in which the individuals involved work together to create a bond. Every relationship has its high and low moments where the bond is strong or is being tested. It takes commitment and work to keep a relationship healthy, with mutual respect among the members.
The parent-child relationship creates a special, sacred bond between two people, but it can also be challenging as the child grows up and starts formulating their own opinions and ideas. The parent may question where they went wrong, and they may mourn the loss of a strong bond with their child. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a parable in which the prodigal son runs off with his inheritance, only to spend it foolishly, and then comes back home to beg for mercy and grace from his father.
At one point or another, we have all been the prodigal son, the jealous older brother, and/or the father. We have all seen relationships from different angles and understand the arguments and attitudes of the three individuals. We understand the complexities within the family system.
We have all been the prodigal son who is eager to leave home and
conquer the world. When teenagers turn eighteen, they want to leave behind the lifestyle of their parents and start their own life. In the parable, the prodigal son asks for his share of inheritance from his father and leaves home soon after (Luke 15:12-13). The prodigal son rebels against everything his father taught him. The prodigal son goes to another country and squanders his money while living a scandalous lifestyle. The text does not tell us what the prodigal son did exactly, but we can imagine what kind of trouble a young man could get into. If we set the parable in modern times, the prodigal son probably would be doing drugs and/or drinking to excess, buying expensive toys, paying for sex, getting in trouble with the law, or [whatever “it” is] that he wanted.
After spending all of his money, the prodigal son ends up working for a pig farmer who never paid him (Luke 15:15-16). As he is starving as a foreigner, the prodigal son realizes he could go home and work as one of his father’s hired hands, and he would have plenty of food (Luke 15:17). Yet the prodigal son knows he is not worthy to be welcomed home as family, because he has sinned and mistreated his father. The prodigal son knows he cannot go home and expect things to be as they were; it would be unfair to his older brother. The prodigal son understands he deserves nothing more than to be one of his father’s hired hands. We all act like the prodigal son at some point during our lives. Sometimes it comes with a high cost. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom. Sometimes it costs us our relationships with loved ones. No matter what the cost, we have all been where the prodigal son is at this point of the story. We have all felt the sting of regret and the need for forgiveness.
The father of the two sons is in a hard situation. He loves both of his sons for different reasons. The father loves his older son for being loyal and committed to him, for making his life on the family farm, and for caring for him as he ages. The older son has been with the father the whole time—making memories, learning the family business, and growing the family. The father is extremely grateful for his older son, yet he mourns the loss of his younger son—the prodigal son. The father misses spending time with the prodigal son. By taking his inheritance and moving away, the prodigal son robs his father of making memories with him, of teaching him the family business, and of watching his grandchildren grow up. The father’s heart aches to know the prodigal son personally, to know he is safe and healthy, and to watch him grow into a man. It is devastating for any parent to have a child run off and to have no contact with them. Not all of us are parents, but we all of us have experienced being wronged by someone who we should have been able to trust.
When the prodigal son returns home, the father runs to greet him and dresses him in his best, and he prepares a great feast to celebrate (Luke 15:22-23). The father is overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving, because his son who was lost is now found (Luke 15:24). When a parent watches their child struggle with substance abuse, they experience similar emotions as the father in the parable. Anyone who struggles with substance abuse is taken away from their family by the chosen drug of choice, because it changes their behavior and makes them dependent on it. However, sometimes the individual is able to go into rehab and remain clean. When this happens, the individual is able to return home and renew their relationships with family members. I remember rejoicing with my mom when my brother went into rehab for substance abuse, and every year we rejoice he has remained clean and has a steady job. We rejoice every time we are able to have a conversation or take a trip with my brother, because if he had kept doing drugs, he may not have been here today. My brother was lost, but now he is found.
However, when the older son sees his father rejoicing over his brother’s return, he becomes angry and jealous (Luke 15:28-29). His father is celebrating over his brother, who wasted his inheritance on foolishness things, while the older son never left his father’s side and worked hard to maintain the family business. And yet, the older son has never gotten a celebration (Luke 15:29-30). The older son feels underappreciated.
Yet the father appeals to the older son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:31-32 NRSV). The father truly loves his older son and treasures every moment they spend together. However, the father is rejoicing over his younger son returning home alive and well. For a period of time, the father was left to wonder if his younger son was alive or dead, if he was safe or in danger, or if he was prosperous or homeless. Now the father could breathe again and no longer had to worry. This is a time to rejoice over a life and the ability to be together as a family.
The love God the Father has for his children is like the father’s love for his sons in the parable. No matter what we have done, God the Father welcomes us back into his loving arms. He offers us grace and mercy when we turn away from the wicked ways of the world to return to him and follow the example of Jesus Christ. Like the father in the parable, God the Father allows us to make our own decisions—right, wrong, or indifferent—and loves us just the same. His arms are always open for our return.
Like the older son, we are left with a choice: to stick to our own ways or to join the celebration. If we stick to our own ways, we will miss out on having a relationship with God the Father. But if we choose to join the celebration, we open our hearts and minds to the impossible being possible. We welcome God the Father into our lives and
receive his love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. We become empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in the world as his ambassadors. We are reconciled to Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, which gives us new life. When we join the celebration, we express God’s love and grace to others.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for forgiving our sins. Help us to love one another as you love us. Open our hearts to accept your forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace, so we can be your ambassadors in the world. Be with us in the days ahead. Thank you for loving us beyond our imaginations. Amen.