There is a beautiful tenderness to John's ferocity. In chapter 2 alone, he uses the refrain 'dear children' five times - not a patronising or belittling address, but a reminder of who his readers are to him: they are his little ones, the precious offspring born of his ministry, his dearly beloved. And yet, there is a fury to this gentleness, a vehement kind of determination, a passionate plea - these are the words of a Father shouting out across the fields to his prodigal as he walks away. Please. Don't. Do. This. These are words full of jealous, firey love that calls out to the wandering adolescent about to make a terrible mistake. Words that seek to save and protect, to spare from harm. To prevent the vulnerable from being led astray (2:26, 3:7)
John urges his readers to stick with it. Continue, remain, remember, keep going. A father standing by the side of the track on Sports Day coaxing his child to look ahead rather than look at his competitors, to get up when they stumble, to remember that there is an end, a finish line, a promise (2:25), a prize.
And so, two questions: who is cheering me on today? And who am I cheering for? As I am urged to continue, am I also urging others? Do I have the same fierce tenderness of John that delivers timely encouragement when it's most needed? Even though I was once a prodigal, have I also become a Father? That is the reminder that Henri Nouwen gives in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, that regardless of which kind of son we are, the greater call on our lives is to become a father. Once we know the wonder and the grace and the joy and the goodness of being welcomed home, we must do as John did: we must become fathers ourselves that we might call home lost sons.
"The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home." (Henri Nouwen)