Reflections on Luke 15:11-12
A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”
Luke tells us the Pharisees and scribes grumbled at Jesus. They couldn’t understand why He was a friend of sinners. 1 Why receive them? Why eat with them? Didn’t the Law demand complete separation – no contact whatsoever? So why didn’t He comply? In response, in kindness, Jesus told them story after story.
About His kingdom. About His Father.
A man had two sons. Wealthy sons.
Not in money. It had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with their father, their family. Compassion reigned in their home. These young men had what many in this world only dream of having – they had love. They had their father’s heart. What compares to that? These are the true riches God intends every person to have and these men had it to the full. Beyond full.
This, this alone, made them vastly rich.
But the younger son doesn’t see it that way. “Father, give me.” He wants his money. He wants out. He demands his inheritance. But how is that possible? That money comes only after his father has died, not before. Who does this? Why this violence? He’s taking what’s not yet his. He’s breaking the natural order of God’s law. He’s assaulting his father – does he know that?
By treating him like he’s already dead.
His father should say no, but he doesn’t. He gives his son the money. He knows what no father should know -- his son’s heart has already left him. Soon enough, the young man gathers his things, loads his transport, and leaves home. I wonder, did he look back? Did he see his father’s face – grieving, weeping?
As if, actually, he’s the one who died.
How do these things happen? How can our children break from us like that – taking what they can, spitting in our face, despising our love, and choosing to live life contrary to everything they know is right and true?
Outside their home. Outside their God.
His son disappears over the horizon and he dies another death. He knows how the story plays out. He’ll go to a foreign country, worshipping foreign gods, and squander his entire estate on parties and prostitutes.2 How does he know that? He knows that because his son, his dear son, has already squandered the one and only thing in life that matters most.
And so he marks the spot. The place where he last saw his son. And every day, morning and night, he knows he will stand here and look. Wait. Hope.
* * *
I called my wife on the drive home from work. “Hey, how was your day?”
“Did you hear about Callie?” Erilynne asked abruptly.
“No,” I said, “What happened?”
“She’s in the hospital. Dave called early this afternoon and asked if I had time to go and visit her. Of course, I said ‘yes’. I just got back a half hour ago.”
“It’s not life threatening, is it?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll fill you in when you get here,” she said, trying to be hopeful. But there was hesitation in her voice that concerned me.
As I pulled the car into the driveway, Erilynne was in the yard walking our Old English Sheepdog. She waved with a hint of a smile but I could see the worry on her face. We’ve known Dave and Callie for the better part of ten years and Callie, especially, since she works side by side with Erilynne in the women’s ministry at church. They’re friends, talking every couple of days or so and meeting for lunch occasionally. Whatever this was, I knew it was serious.
Per usual, our sheepdog came running full blast the moment she saw my car. I opened the door and she came crashing in, barely letting me out. As I stooped down to play with her, I kept my eyes on Erilynne walking towards me.
“So, this doesn’t sound good, huh?” I started.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not sure what to make of it.”
“Dave asked me to call him when I got to the hospital. He said he’d meet me at the information desk and take me to Callie’s room. I didn’t think much of it, at first, but it seemed odd to me. Why didn’t he just give me her room number? Well, it turns out, Dave wanted to talk to me before I saw Callie. He wanted me to tell me privately that she was admitted this afternoon to the psych ward.”
“Psych ward? Callie?” I said, puzzled.
“Yeah, apparently she’s been suffering from depression in the last few weeks. He said the doctors think it’s a hormonal imbalance. Apparently, there was a surprise pregnancy and miscarriage a few months ago none of us knew about. He said she’s handled it pretty well up to now. But, I guess, last night or this morning it got worse. He kept telling me, ‘She’s going to be fine. They just need to monitor her for a few days and bring her systems back into balance.’”
I could tell she wasn’t convinced.
“When we got to the room, Callie’s mom was there. She was friendly, as usual, but as adamant as Dave was – ‘Everything’s going to be fine. She’s only in for a few days. It’s been a rough few months’ – that kind of thing. But I could tell in Callie’s eyes something else was going on.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like fear. Like Dave and her mom are covering up what really happened. I mean both of them went out of their way to keep the conversation upbeat and pleasant. Callie was quiet for most of it. Then, a little while later when I started to leave, Callie grabbed my hand and asked me to pray for her – which I did – but after, she whispered, ‘Can we talk?’ I’m telling you, she’s scared.”
I stood there, trying to take it all in. It just didn’t sound like Callie to me.
“So if it’s not hormonal imbalance,” I asked, “what is it?”
She didn’t hesitate. “I’m thinking the worst.”
“Worst?” I said, not understanding.
“I think she may have tried to kill herself.”
Over the next few days, I came alongside Dave as Erilynne continued seeing Callie during visiting hours at the hospital. She never got her alone. There was always someone there and always this look of desperation in Callie’s eyes. One night, when I got home, Erilynne said she’d found something in one of her journals from a few years back.
“I want you to read this,” she said, handing it to me. I took it, noting it was her prayer journal from 2010.
Sometimes I get the feeling I can’t find the real Callie. She doesn’t let me in. And when she does – when she drops her guard – I’m not sure I like what I see. Don’t get me wrong. She’s perfect for the women who come on Thursdays -- especially the women she counsels. She’s bright, gifted, attractive, and deeply respected.
Lord, I’m grateful for her. You know that.
Today, at lunch, I sensed it again. We sat down, the four of us, and somehow got talking about how You care for our most intimate, mundane needs. Jo shared, then Beckie, then me. Quite naturally, we turned to Callie. She was right there with us, engaged in the conversation, and quick to share a story…
About someone else.
Maybe the others didn’t notice. But I did. I never hear Callie’s story. She never speaks about You in her life. She speaks about You in the Bible. She speaks about You in other people. But never her and You – from the heart, intimate and real. And I’m left wondering – does she know You? Is she with You?
Is she, like the prodigal son, a prodigal daughter? The same – because she knows the power and depth of Your love for her but somehow rejects it? Doesn’t believe it? Turns from it and, in turning, squanders it? No, she’s not living her rebellion out loud like the prodigal son. Nothing indecent. Nothing immoral.
Just far away from You.
If this is true, Lord, bring her home. Please, in Jesus’ name, bring her home.
1 See Matthew 11:19
2 The expression, “parties and prostitutes” is found in The Living Bible and resonates with how the older brother viewed his younger brother’s escapades. See Luke 15:30.