He returned home, but how much time had passed?
Jesus’ narrative (Luke 15.11-32) gives the reader no firm clue. He simply indicates that in time the young man awoke to his senses and returned to his father.
The he, of course, is the man often called the prodigal son. And, it is an interesting and instructive question to ask: how much time had passed before he returned home? Was it six months? . . . A couple of years? . . . A decade? . . . Most of a lifetime?
His story has been relived countless times in the course of human history. How many have walked in his shoes? How many fathers and mothers have stood at the gate waiting anxiously for their prodigal child to return?
I know many parents who stand today waiting for a wayward child to return from a place of faithless living far removed from God. Time after time, efforts to instruct and direct and correct are rebuffed. The promise of the wise man seems shallow—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart” (Proverbs 22.6), the wise man wrote.
But, the promise is not founded on immediacy, is it? “And when he is old . . . ,” the wise man explains. Old is certainly an abstract term, but it is significant that he did not write, “and he will never stray.” Does the promise allow (perhaps anticipate) a time of waywardness followed by a return?
My point is simple: parents, there is hope, so don’t give up waiting at the gate. It is possible that the prodigal returned after being away for only six months. It is just as likely that he was gone for years upon years. After all, he did spend away an entire inheritance.
So, to the fathers and mothers waiting anxiously at the gate: be concerned, but do not despair; be concerned, but do not be overly critical of your parenting; be concerned, but do not give up hoping. Be patient, and allow the seed so faithfully planted to take root and grow and transform a life. Remember: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart.”