“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
It occurred to me in reading this passage this morning that (as I am wont to do) I have made many assumptions about the father as I read and thought about this parable over the years. That is, being told that the father was “filled with compassion” on seeing his son’s return, I have filled in the details to my own liking and assumed that the father had such compassion from the moment the son left. I have imagined that he continually looked down the road, hoping to see his son returning. There is, however, no real support for that in the text, and in fact, one could easily assume (though it would be just that, an assumption) that the opposite was true – that the father was royally pissed off at the younger son and had a change of heart only when he saw the son “a long way off.” Based on what we know, it does not take too much of an imagination to suspect that the father/younger son relationship was a bit rocky before he asked for his share of the estate, nor to consider that the father was miffed the whole time the younger son was away. (I’ve heard there are people who hold on to things that way.)
The text provides no real insight on these issues. The father is asked to split up the estate, he does, and the younger son leaves. The text almost invites me to fill in my own details, so I do. All that to say that there is a lesson within a lesson here. A lesson about how quick I am, having a few facts, to fill in the rest to my liking, when the truth is I don’t really know. Perhaps most problematic here is the tendency to assume my own details are correct, or at least better than those filled in by others.