“What was I thinking? This will never work!” His own raspy voice sounded foreign to him.
The young man paced from the tree on one side of the road to the rock on the other side and back again. He winced from pain as he absently ran his cut hands through his matted and unkempt hair. His clothes were ragged, his knees were bruised and scraped. He felt filthy – inside and out. It had been weeks since he’d had a bath, and his pathetic diet had given him a sickly gray complexion.
The morning sun was still hidden behind the eastern horizon, but the muted pre-dawn light was beginning to bring silhouettes to life. Images appeared out of the very darkness of the night now passing. It had been a night of little sleep.
Tortured words escaped from his mouth between sobs and moans. His was a condition not so much of physical pain, but a condition of mental anguish and unbearable remorse.
He deserved no pity, no helping hand, no warm bed, no full stomach, and he knew it. He had made a bed for himself – a bed of his own design and choosing. Now he was lying in it.
He agonized over the events of the past months. What had happened? How had everything fallen apart so fast? He’d been such an idiot!
His last hope lay before him. He wanted to go home more than anything, but he was afraid. He felt he had no place there anymore – so for a long time, he had dismissed any thought of it. But as desperation threatened to swallow him whole, he had finally picked up his bruised and broken body and began his journey home.
Now, just below the hillcrest that formed the boundary of his father’s estate, he waited. He wanted so badly to take those last steps toward home, but he hesitated. He was sure he would be rejected, just as he had rejected the love and care of his own father those many months ago. He would not be welcome, he was certain of it, but what choice did he have?
Finally, as the first rays of the sunrise came streaming into the valley, the young man picked himself up and stumbled over the hilltop on the last leg of his weary travels.
“I won’t even ask him to forgive me,” he mumbled to himself. “What I’ve done is unforgivable! I’ll just admit I was wrong. I’ll throw myself on his mercy. Maybe he’ll make me one of his hired workers, at least then I’ll have food to eat…I don’t even deserve that, but I have to try…”
The green pastures below him were aglow with the light of a new day, long shadows filled the fertile vineyards. “I’ll just go around to the servants’ entrance. I don’t want to cause an embarrassing scene. He may not even recognize me… he may choose not to recognize me.” Apprehension gripped him, but he stumbled on. He suddenly felt very young and foolish, unable to hold his head up, or raise his eyes above the path before him. The young man steeled himself to the humiliating scene that awaited him.
Then he heard it – shouts and commotion, far in the distance, by the house. What was that? Someone running toward him? A man, running, with his arms out and his robes flowing behind him. “Am I seeing things?” The young man felt delirious. “Surely they were expecting someone else -?” He stopped in his tracks. “It can’t be…”
“Son! My son!” The old man ran as fast as he could, tears of joy streaming down his face and into his beard. He reached his son just in time to catch his fatigued body as it crumpled in a heap, into waiting arms.
Warmth and relief flooded the young man – he tried to speak, to say the words he had rehearsed all the way home, “Father, I have sinned…I am not worthy…” But his words were drowned by the tears and by the kisses of his own loving dad.
“Welcome home, my son.” The words came like spring rain on parched earth. Then his father turned to the servants who had hurried to join them. “Come. Let’s celebrate! For this son of mine was dead, but is now alive again!”
And if any had ears to hear it, the sound of angels rejoicing filled the heavens.