This phrase from Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son pierced my heart with hope. We are told in Luke 15:20, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”
Many parents have watched their kids move further from God instead of closer. Some move to “a distant country” before they ever move out. I have had adults in my Sunday School classes who had kids in prison or trapped deep in addiction. But the picture we have here is of a heavenly Father who is always watching the road and sees the returning son while still a long way off.
Obviously, the father in Jesus’s parable was not an English teacher who had ruined his eyes grading essays. But even though I have poor distance vision, I understand how this father could recognize his son a long way off. This summer my son Claude and his family visited us here in Oregon. He and his wife and kids live in Illinois now, so we had not seen each other for a couple years. When we spent time at the beach, I noticed that even from a distance, he had the same walk. I knew it was him before I put on my glasses. Fathers know their sons.
Parents praying for wandering children should know that God has perfect distance vision. He not only sees them on the road; he sees them in pig land. He is full of compassion and will meet our kids on the road. I suspect God runs faster and certainly more graceful than I. His love is quick.
I imagine sin and hunger had changed the prodigal son. He had been herding pigs and eating with them. His personal hygiene was probably terrible. It would have been easy for his father to see only the ravages of sin–all that was not the son he had raised. Yet his father recognized him a long way off.
When he looked down the road, he didn’t see a sinner, a rebel, an addict, a failure, or a disappointment. He only saw his son. And he ran.