In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when his young son was still on his path home, his father ran to him, while his son was still some distance away (Luke 15:20b). It is implied in this verse that our heavenly Father meets us at some point in our journey back to him. He makes certain that we don’t have to make the full journey of repentance alone. The fact that the father of the young man ran to him would seem quite unfitting in the custom of the day, and this expresses the idea that our heavenly Father will not react toward us, in the manner in which we expect of him. Far from being angry over what we’ve done, he is always ready to give us much more than we desire.
If the young man had been fearful of facing his father or admitting how terribly he had treated him, his heart and mind were changed, when he saw how his father received him. Yet, he still expected to be disciplined. He never expected complete forgiveness, but he was able to readily and openly admit to his sins, and accept whatever consequences his father deemed necessary.
Whether or not his father allowed him to finish his repentance, the text doesn’t say. However, by the time we get to Luke 15:22 the father’s servants are present, and he commands them to bring out the best robe (a change of clothes) for his son, and to put a (signet) ring upon his finger, which meant the young man was fully accepted by his father, and he would take full responsibility for his son’s actions. The young man’s bare feet reflected his servile condition (Isaiah 47:1-3; Jeremiah 2:25), but his father brought him the good news of peace (Luke 15:22; cf. Ephesians 6:15). The whole scene is quite overwhelming in its depiction of the repentant sinners reception by God.
Remembering who Luke’s immediate addressee is (Luke 1:3), one has to wonder what this may have meant to him. What we see in Luke 15:22 should have been a sudden surprise for Theophilus, the high priest and Luke’s addressee (Luke 1:3). As the reigning high priest at the time of Luke’s writing, it would not have been difficult for him to see in the change of clothes given the young man and to remember the change of clothes given Joshua, the high priest who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon after servitude there (cf. Zechariah 3:1, 3-4). Theophilus had approved the persecution of believers following the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58-60). Roman armies at the time of Luke writing his narrative were wintering in Ptolemias, and they stood ready to come to Jerusalem in the spring to forcefully place an idol of Caesar, god of the world, in the Temple there. Luke was calling for Theophilus to repent and cease the persecution of the Jewish Hellenist believers, which he did (cf. Acts 9:31).
The scene depicted in Luke 15:22, should also have been picked up by the Pharisees and the experts in the Law (Luke 15:2). Jesus was, himself, offering them an opportunity to repent and change their attitude toward Jesus and their brethren who came repentant to him.
The father of the young man then ordered the fatted calf to be slain and to celebrate his sons return to his family Luke 15:23-24), and this points to the joy of the shepherd who found his lost sheep (Luke 15:5-6), and the woman’s joy in finding her lost coin (Luke 15:8-9). Taken together they all point to the joy of our heavenly Father when one sinner repents and turns back to him (Luke 15:7, 10).