It is not easy to put into words, just how much I have changed,
and how my life has changed, after that night.
When I tried to tell my Father just how wrong I was,
just how sorry I was for what I had done, he wouldn’t even let me!
He cut me off in mid-sentence,
and started ordering the servants to new tasks.
If he had heard my plea to be treated as a servant,
he would never have put sandals on my feet;
servants do not have sandals, only the master’s family does.
Instead of admonishing me, he put a ring on my finger,
giving me authority over the servants.
Instead of ignoring me, like a child who should be disowned,
or who should be considered dead to him,
he had the servants bring me the finest robe,
the one befitting the honored guest at a feast,
and then he ordered the fatted calf be killed and a feast prepared in my honor!
It is no wonder my elder brother reacted the way he did; who could blame him?
But my Father went to him, and convinced him to join us that evening at the feast.
You would think I would have slept like a baby that night, but it was not so.
Even after the long journey home in my weakened condition due to hunger,
and then the feast and all the food and the dancing, when I laid my head down,
I could not sleep. How many times that night did I get up from my bed,
only to find that I was not cold, or tired, or hungry?
How many times did I try to wake myself from this glorious dream,
only to find that I was not dreaming at all? I was in my Fathers house,
warm, fed, and resting, yet I could not find sleep.
The guilt I felt was enormous, like the weight of a yoke attached to a full wagon.
How could I pull this alone? When I would remember that there was no yoke,
that my Father had placed no burden on me at all, my eyes welled up with tears.
In the early hours before dawn, I finally gave up on sleep,
and dressed and went to walk in the fields. I needed to see the land,
and to understand my place in my Father’s house and property.
I had wished to be a servant, to have a full belly and a roof under which to lay my head,
nothing more; yet here I was walking in the fields as a master,
with a robe and a ring and shoes. When I realized this was so much more than I deserved,
I wept. I walked and wept bitterly for some time and came upon the stump of an old tree,
and decided to sit. The tears would not stop.
As I sat there crying, the sky was full of glorious colors, pinks and reds and gray,
and a yellow glow from below the horizon. As the sun rose, the day slowly grew brighter,
and I marveled in it like I had never before seen the sunrise.
As I sat there pondering my situation,
my brother approached from the direction of the house.
As I turned toward the sound of his approach, the tears came again.
I stood up and looked at him, and all I could think of to say was “Brother, I’m sorry,”
but I didn’t get the chance.
He said to me, “Brother, I am sorry I acted like a spoiled child last night.”
“What?” I said.
“I was so mad at you for what you did to our Father,
I couldn’t believe he would offer a feast for you!” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I did not deserve that. I do not deserve any of this!
I wanted only to be a servant.”
I sat down and began to untie my sandals, but my brother stopped me.
“What are you doing?” He said.
“I am removing my shoes. I will remove the robe and this ring as well,
and return them all to our Father at once!”
“Hold on a minute,” he said. “I look at you and see the tears on your face,
and my heart aches for you and your turmoil. I have seen this pain before,
and my heart ached then too.
When you demanded your share, I saw it in our Father’s eyes.
But when you left, that pain was in our Father’s heart. All the time you were gone,
I could feel his pain. Last night, the pain in Father’s heart was replaced by joy.
I have not seen joy or happiness in his eyes since you left.
Now, you want to exchange his joy, his love, and his grace for the life of a servant?
Let me ask you this; are you going to fill his heart with pain all over again?
You said you came home to be his servant. A servant does not treat his master that way.
But you are not a servant; you are an heir. That is what our Father’s grace has made you.
That may be hard for you to accept right now, but you must accept it,
and learn to live in his grace.
You said you wanted to be a servant, why not serve him with gratitude?
Let every task you do, every decision you make,
be done with gratitude and love for the grace he has shown you.”
“But I do not deserve that grace,” I said.
“Of course not!” He continued.
“That’s what grace is; forgiveness that is undeserved!
But that does not mean you must be ungrateful.
Let your heart fill with gratitude for the undeserved forgiveness,
and love for our Father who gave it to you.”
My brother turned and walked back to the house.
I thought about what he said for a while and then followed him.
That was years ago. In the time since that day, I have served my father with a glad heart,
because I truly am grateful for the grace he has shown me.
This grace, this forgiveness, that I have in such abundance, I try to share with everyone.
When I settle my Fathers accounts, I am free to forgive debts as I see fit.
In turn, these people are grateful; they continue to be our clients.
Some have even referred others to us. My Father’s influence grows with each kindness I show.
No longer do they treat me as ‘that son who hurt his Father.’
I am treated with respect that I do not deserve, to go with the forgiveness I do not deserve.
I have become a servant of my Father; a slave to my gratitude and his grace.
That is how I have changed, in the days after the feast.