Sunday, March 31, 2019
But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she boils inside. "I hate you!" she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she makes a plan to run away. She visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in vivid detail the gangs, drugs, and violence in downtown Detroit, she figures that’s probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun. The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car, she calls him "Boss" teaches her a few things that men like.
Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about her family back home, but their lives now seem so boring that she can hardly believe she grew up there. She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline, "Have you seen this child?" But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.
After a year, the first signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. "These days, we can’t mess around," he yells, and before she knows it, she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. "Sleeping" is the wrong word, a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never let down her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.
One night, as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball. God, why did I leave, she says to herself. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada. It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? Even if they’re home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock. Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault, it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me? She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the road, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard, a sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.
Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice - if they’re there. She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect, and not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of 40 brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing ridiculous-looking party hats and blowing noisemakers and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads; Welcome home! Out of the crowd steps her dad. She looks through tears and begins the memorized speech, Dad, I’m sorry. I know. He interrupts her. Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.
The story I just read is a modern parable of the Prodigal Son.
We know the story of the Prodigal Son well. A son goes off and loses is inheritance. He finally comes to realize that his life is miserable and returns home with the intention of working for the father. But the father throws a party instead, welcoming his son home with open arms.
This story of the Prodigal Son is more than a story about a son who misused the family fortune. It’s more than a story of repentance, how this wayward son decided to return home. It’s more than a story about the jealous elder son who stays home grudgingly helping the father manage the family farm. It’s much more than all of that.
It’s a story about the love, the forgiveness, the acceptance of a father. It’s a story about the love God has for each of us. Yes, this story is filled with many things that hit home about our lives on this earth, but the focus of this story isn’t with the prodigal son, nor with the jealous elder son. The focus of the story is the father.
We can see right at the beginning of this parable one of the characteristics of this father. His younger son comes to him knowing that one day one-third of the family fortune will be his, and instead of waiting for his father to die to receive it, he asks for his share now. So, the father says yes. He divides the family fortune. The older son by law receives two-thirds and the younger one-third. Already we see the love and patience of the father. He could have ordered his son to stay at home, he could have refused to give him his share. But he respects the son’s desire for independence and even adventure. His wisdom and experience told him of the dangers his son was going to face on such an adventure. But he knew that his son needed this experience, he needed the opportunity of learning first hand, perhaps, even the hard way, that life is more than living it in the fast lane. So, he hands over the fortune, and lets his son go.
While at home, the father and the elder son continue to manage the family farm. But the father is constantly watching, waiting, wondering how the younger son is doing. Then one day it happens. The younger son returns. The father sees him coming off in the distance. He runs to him, but his arms around him, hugs him, welcomes him back into the family. Though the son had hit the bottom, the father lifted him up. Though the boy had stupidly and selfishly squandered his inheritance, the father welcomed him back home. Though the boy disowned his family, the father restored his membership. The father accepted his lost son. He welcomed him back.
The following story speaks about this father very well:
A man was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son. He went to work, working to produce a picture worthy of telling the story. Finally, the day came when the picture was complete, and he unveiled the finished painting. The scene was set outside the father’s house and showed the open arms of each as they were just about to meet and embrace. The man who commissioned the work was well pleased and was prepared to pay the painter for his work, when he suddenly noticed a detail that he had missed.
Standing out in the painting above everything else in the scene, was the starkly apparent fact that the father was wearing one red shoe and one blue shoe. He couldn’t believe his eyes. How could this be, that the painter could make such an error? He asked the painter, and the man simply smiled and nodded, assuring the man, Yes, this is a beautiful representation of the love of God for His children. What do you mean? To which he replied, The father in this picture wasn’t interested in being color-coordinated or fashion-conscious when he went out to meet his son. In fact, he was in such a hurry to show his love to his son, he simply reached and grabbed the nearest two shoes that he could find.
He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes. Yes, the father in the story of the Prodigal Son is like the God of the unmatched shoes. He hurries to reach out to his son that has returned. He hurries to forgive him not with crossed arms of disapproval, but with outstretched arms of love. The fathers hurries to reassure his son of the love that he has for him. The father hurries so fast that the son doesn’t fully understands what’s happening. He hurries so much that he puts on the two nearest shoes. He’s not concerned about color of matching. He’s just concerned about his returning son.
And our God through Jesus Christ is indeed the God of the Unmatched Shoes. The God of the Unmatched Shoes shows us very simply that love, God has for us through Christ. He has shown His love to us in a hurried manner. For God couldn’t wait one more minute to rescues us from our sins through the cross of Calvary. God wants to forgive our wayward ways and accept us into His loving arms as soon as possible.
God is indeed the God of Unmatched Shoes.