There was a young man, in his early 20s, who lived with his father and older brother on the family farm. As time passed, the young man had thoughts of leaving home, spreading his wings, and seeing the world beyond the narrow confines of his upbringing. He might leave but never return. He might make good in far away places - an emigrant who had prospered.
However, to achieve his goal, he needed money. He approached his father and asked him for his share of the inheritance. This was granted, and soon the son was on his way to a distant land. There he squandered his property on dissolute living. Amid penury and famine, and the hostility of others, he hired himself out as a labourer to feed pigs. His condition in life could not have been worse - no money, no food, no family or friends, no proper clothes. Famished, and dying from hunger, he thought of home.
What the son did not know was that every day, since he left home, his father missed him terribly and went to a vantage point on the farm where, standing on tip-toes, he looked out for his son. Then, one day, while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion and pent-up emotion. He ran and threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son begged his father's forgiveness. But the father instructed his slaves: "Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Get the fatted calf and let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found."
Jesus first told this story to the Jewish leaders - the Pharisees and Scribes in Israel - who condemned him for talking and eating with tax collectors and sinners. In their view, Jesus should dissociate himself from the disreputable and sinners.
But Jesus rejected their strictures and criticisms. He cut through their callous, cold religious legalism, and pointed them to the story of the lost son and the loving father. The son had gone astray and acted selfishly. But the father never stopped loving him and looking out for him - every moment of every day.
Jesus was showing them what God is like and how people should be treated. He is like the loving father in this story who loves us all the time and eagerly awaits our return without recrimination.