Jesus drew diverse crowds. He often ate with people the religious leaders of the day thought weren’t worth their time. They thought Jesus was being wasteful of His time, energy, and resources, so to explain what He was doing, Jesus told them a story about a father and his two sons.
The younger son ran off with his part of the brothers’ inheritance. But, he wasted everything he had, so that when a famine came he had no choice but to work on a farm—the son became so hungry that he wanted to eat the pigs’ food. Eventually, he realized that he had run away from his father’s love and provision.
So, the younger son returned home. Luke 15:20 says, “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” He didn’t feel worthy of his father’s unconditional love. But the father told his servants to prepare a great feast and a party. The father didn’t need his son to do anything, because he had already done everything in advance.
But remember, there is also a second son. He was out working in the fields when his brother returned home. When he heard the partying going on and learned why they were all celebrating, he became angry. His father begged his older son to come inside and celebrate with them, but the older son didn’t want to hear any of it. He told his father, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” The father responded, “We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Read Luke 15:11-32 for the whole story.)
This story is usually called the Prodigal Son story, because of the son who ran away from his father, but I like to call it the Prodigal God story. Jesus told this story to show that He would waste everything to help us get our hearts back home. He will be recklessly extravagant if it means we can find the real meaning of life.
And that applies to you too, no matter whether you’re more like the younger son, running away from the Father, or more like the older son, working and striving to earn the Father’s love. Both of these modes—self-discovery mode and self-righteous mode—will cause you to be tired, bitter, and worn-out, but neither will make you better.
What will help is understanding that no matter who you are, God is looking for you. Whether you’ve never been to church before or whether you go every week, He is looking for you. Take a step toward Him and He will run toward you. Jesus came to repair our broken relationship with God so that we can come back home to Him. All you have to do is put your faith and trust in Him.