The old man stroked his beard as he stood in the middle of the road. His eyes squinted in the bright sunlight. It appeared that he had done this many times before as his eyes were deeply grooved with wrinkles. Evidently, he was waiting for someone to come walking down the road. The neighbors could be heard from time to time gossiping about this old man’s foolishness. It had been 15 years since his son had left him, and never had he heard a word from him. He could be dead, for all they knew. Yet, this old father faithfully stood at the crossroads every morning and night, leaning on his wooden staff. Every now and then you could see a trickle of water run down his sun worn cheek. After a few minutes he would turn around and slowly shuffle his way back to his stone house. The appearance and style of the house reflected the great wealth this old man had. Many fields of olive trees and grapevines surrounded his estate. He owned much fertile land and it bore him an abundant yield. Yet, in spite of all the comfort his money could buy, his heart was heavy. His friends taunted him and said his son would never return and that he deserved to die for treating his father in this fashion. But the old man would not listen. He knew in his heart that his son would one day return.
With such depth of kindness in his voice, the old man would often retell the story again and again of how his son grew restless. But he would never dishonor his son and tell others how his son no longer wanted to be stuck at home and be told what he could and couldn’t do. He and his father had had many conflicts and his father never saw things his way. The young man thought for sure that his father favored his older brother more than him and he felt that he could no longer trust him.
Feeling a deep isolation from the rest of the family, he thought that the only recourse would be for him to leave home and experience real life away from all those who would seek to control his life. He somewhat boldly approached his father and asked for his inheritance early. The wise father knew that he couldn’t demand that his son stay with him, as he was a man now. Though the father knew in his heart that his son’s decision would bring him to ruin, that he would spend his money foolishly, he had to release his son to follow his own heart. By giving his son freedom the old man knew he willingly took on the grief of daily bearing the concern for the well being of his child. He would suffer the consequences of his son’s choices and when his son hurt, he would hurt. Such is the cost of love, and the price of freedom.
The father grabbed hold of his son and hugged him strongly, speaking quietly into his ear that he will always love him no matter what he did. He told his son that he was always welcome to come back and live in his house. As the young man walked down the road, he never even turned to wave good-bye. The old man just stood there with tears in his eyes, and seemed to stoop over as he pounded his chest, “my son, my son, why have you forsaken me?”
Now, fifteen years later, before the sun was fully up, the old man once again stood in the road and stroked his beard, leaning on his weather worn staff. This time he saw movement, someone walking far into the distant. Slowly, the man moved closer and the old man’s face began to quiver. He threw down his staff and began to run toward the man walking toward him. Yes, it was his son…he knew that one day he would return. As they approached each other his son fell at his feet and wept. “Oh father, I have sinned against you and against God in heaven. I do not deserve to even be a servant in your household. Please forgive me and allow me to come be your slave. I was such a fool and have wasted your money and threw my life way through sinful living. How could you ever forgive me?”
“O my son, you were dead but now you are alive! Come, here is my ring and put on this robe. I more than forgive you, I embrace you fully as my son. You will eat with me at my table.”
“Servants,” he shouted back towards his house, “kill a fatted calf and prepare a feast for my son. He was lost, but now he is found.”
“Let me look at you,” his father cried, “I have waited for this day and now it is here. You have really come home.” Then the old man with tears running down his face could not stop kissing his son.