A Father’s Day meditation

 “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” – the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:31

What shocking words the father says to his eldest son. This son, who had just finished chewing him out for taking in his brother and rejoicing his return, stands before him seething with rage as years of pent up anger and resentment are finally spilled out for the father to hear. His younger brother had abandoned them. He had left them and taken his inheritance and proclaimed that he no longer wanted anything to do with them. His younger brother had taken the fruits of his father’s efforts and “swallowed it up with prostitutes”, bringing nothing back with him but tattered clothes and worn out shoes. And yet, for this son, for this son, who had shamed them so completely, the father has killed the fattened calf, the calf which was to be saved only for the most special celebrations?

The eldest son is incredulous. He is angry. He is mean and hurtful and spouts hateful words meant to cut his father to the core. And yet his father responds with this.

“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

Why? Why does his father respond with such grace, with such compassion and burning love for his son who has said, in his own way, that he also wants nothing to do with him? Maybe because, underneath those words of anger and hate, the father sees the deeper hurt. Maybe beneath the demeanor of an angry man, the father sees the face of his little child, asking him fervently, “Don’t you love me, too?”

His son, his firstborn, his eldest and heir, has finally come to him and shared with him the hurt he had hidden away. He had hidden it in his work, quietly going about the field, tilling the land and working hard. All the while, he wondered what his father must think of him. He had learned his trade, had been taught what it would be like to someday be in charge of his father’s estate. And yet, he still didn’t feel that any of it really belonged to him.

“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

How these words must had stunned his son. Everything he had thought he was, every insecurity and doubt about his place in his father’s house, has been wiped away with a single sentence out of his father’s mouth. That identity of servant, of unworthy slave, is stripped away before his very eyes. He too is robed in his father’s cloak. For him, too, a ring appears on his finger. And to him too, his father has given the invitation to step into his rightful place as a truly beloved son.

While we don’t know how the eldest son reacted to his father’s words, I can imagine and hope for their moment of reconciliation. Maybe they walk quietly back to the house. Maybe they sit on a bench in the dark, quiet night, while the celebration goes on inside. Maybe the eldest son falls into his father’s embrace and sobs, as his brother had done, telling him how sorry he is for having gone so long acting like a person he was never meant to be.

And maybe the father’s heart rejoices, because this day he has not just gotten back one son.

No, he has gotten two.

This meditation is dedicated to my father, Jeff, whom I love dearly and continue to be proud of every day. I love you, dad.