One of the most popular parables found in the Bible is the story of the prodigal son. It is easy to understand why. The parable, which tells of a son who squanders his inheritance, leaves his family, and then returns feeling ashamed, mirrors our own mortal probation in many ways. We all fall short of the glory of God in one way or another, failing to live up to our potential and wandering away from the safety of heavenly help.
However, we are often too busy trying to avoid our “prodigal son tendencies” that we fail to grasp the beautiful truths Christ was trying to tell us about the nature of God and of his own mission.
In the gospel of Luke, the only gospel to record the parable, Christ speaks of the moment the son wishes to decides to return home and what happens when he finally makes it.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
It seems that today, many prodigal sons and daughters (which is all of us essentially) have this notion that we need to be perfect to qualify for the Heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness. We imagine there is a line of satisfactory righteousness and if we can just cross it, the gospel will start working the way we wish it would. We often tell ourselves that our prayers don’t seem to be answered because we’re not doing it right. We don’t get anything out of scripture study because we don’t try hard enough. We don’t enjoy Church because we aren’t humble enough. Life is bad because we are bad; if we were just good enough, life would be good, or at least better.
While we do have a duty to our covenants and obedience, we take this mandate and paralyze ourselves with it. In the parable of the prodigal son, we learn just where Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are willing to meet us.
The son wasn’t home. He wasn’t even close. He was “yet a great way off.” How did his father even see him? Perhaps it was because he was looking for his son.
We don’t have to be close to our heavenly home. There isn’t a list of tasks we can achieve that will automatically turn on grace. It is always there, always available if we simply try to head in the right direction. We have been promised heavenly help will rush to our aid in times of extremity.
In Alma 7:11-12, where we find one of the most popular descriptions of the Atonement’s power:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
The word “succor” reiterates what we learn from the prodigal son: its Latin origins mean “to run to the help of.”
Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and heavenly angels will run to help you. It doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. They are earnestly seeking not only to save us, but to exalt us. It is true that as we struggle forward we may not always feel they are coming. However, if we stay the course and keep our eyes towards them, they will be there, running to embrace us. How much more powerful will this be if we meet them with open arms?