I smiled when I saw the sign in the front yard. It was as big as a bedsheet: WELCOME HOME DAVE!
Dave was the son of Jack and Nancy Carter. Fine young man. He had just finished the semester and was coming home to Littleton, Colorado, for the summer.
You see it when someone returns from military deployment. The whole neighborhood rolls out. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree. WELCOME HOME SOLDIER!
But what do you do when the kid coming home isn’t a well-behaved son or a patriotic young trooper returning from war?
The boy I have in mind has been acting like a pig, feeding pigs, eating with pigs. Took half of his dad’s money, swaggered off to Acapulco and blew it on booze and bimbos; trampled on everything he’d been taught at home and church. Lost his pals, his money, and his morals.
And now he’s coming home because he’s broke and hungry.
And catch this! His dad wants to throw a welcome-home party for him.
Do you think he deserves a party? I don’t think he deserves a party.
He left broken hearts behind when he left home; and left a mess behind when he headed back home.
His speech is ready and rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” That should do the trick.
But is his father’s forgiveness the only forgiveness he needs? Not only was he contaminated by Acapulco; he contaminated Acapulco. Abused and misused people.
We’ve wagged a shame-on-you finger at his fair-weather friends. Lousy loyalists we say—when he ran out of money they ran out on him.
But what havoc did he wreak on them? There were guys he led into debauchery and gals he led into shame. See that old-before-her-time girl carrying a baby on her hip? His baby?
I don’t think any of them would go to the party. And I don’t think I would go to the party.
We’ve also wagged a shame-on-you finger at his older sibling; the one that stayed home, worked hard, went to church every time the door was opened. He was boiling mad when he heard about the party for his ne’er-do-well kid brother. Refused to come to the party. Can’t say I blame him.
It’s too early to have a party. We need to wait and see if his penitence is genuine. Maybe he just decided it didn’t make sense to chow down with pigs in the slums when he could gorge on filet mignon in a mansion. How do we know his remorse is real? Maybe he’s pulling a fast one. Give him a bath, clean jeans, and a sandwich—but it’s too early for a robe, a ring, and a reception.
It’s too early to have a party. We need to wait and see what he’ll do when the memories of Acapulco come back and stir the itch for indulgence? How do we know he won’t relapse? The lure of lust may be too much for him and he may cut loose again. We need to wait and see how this turns out.
Let him come home. But don’t stake a WELCOME HOME SON! sign on the front lawn. Don’t hire a band and a caterer; don’t make a list and mail embossed invitations to the party. Let him show he’s on the up and up; get a job; earn his spurs. Don’t let him off the hook ’til he proves himself.
What does this lavish “Welcome Home” say to him?
Just this: You were missed, you are loved, you are forgiven, you are home.
So I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s time for a party because … because that is exactly how God treats us.