I don't watch basketball. I've never been one of those guys who sat down to watch sports. I have a good time watching with friends, but sports are more about relationships to me than they are about entertainment. I like to cheer. I like to see good plays, but being with friends while watching a game is a lot more important than the game itself.
I don't watch draft picks. I don't know very many major players' names in any sport. However, I know about LeBron James coming back to Cleveland. The posts and new feeds are ubiquitous. Everyone is posting their obligatory thoughts about the return of a hometown hero who once held near messianic status for northeast Ohio, the hero who was scorned for leaving town. Even the people angry about all the LeBron posts are taking the time to post and tweet about not liking LeBron posts.
If you don't live in Cleveland, you really can't understand what it felt like to see LeBron leave town in 2010. He represented millions of dollars in revenue for the region. He was our one bit of good news when the economy took a crap and manufacturing left us flat. Your paycheck could be too small. Your debt could be too high. Your city could be going down hill, but you could always turn on a game and know that LeBron was going to do something magic on the court. He represented hope. He represented this sense that everything could be ok. If a hometown kid could play that well and make us win on the court, maybe there was some magic in any one of us that could help make this whole town turn around. We put a lot on him, more than a 23 year old should have to carry on his shoulders. But that's what we did, and that's why it hurt so bad when he left.
Seeing him leave was akin to superman leaving metropolis (which in a weird way actually happened to us too). Burning jerseys was like burning Superman's red cape. He couldn't be found when our hour was dark, and we lost hope.
Now, it is a foolish thing to put so much on a mere man. There is no sense debating on whether it was right for him to go or not. It was his decision, and I don't think he should be shamed for it. But, no matter how you cut it, it hurt.
Now, he is returning, and it is good news. I was on my way to the mailbox when the news broke. The guy working on the house next door (whom I've never seen before) yelled the good news to me across the yard. The news was too good for him to hold in. He had to tell someone, and I was the closest one there. If I had been much closer he may have kissed me.
A region that needed some good news just got it, and we are all pretty excited about it. For a brief moment, we are all (most of us) united in happiness over the news. I actually have a friend who may get his job back, because of LeBron returning. Local restaurants will sell more. Our team will probably win more. We will all cheer more. It is good news, that really does affect most of us in some way.
LeBron James is possibly the greatest basketball player in the world, and he is returning to us. But, what if he wasn't the greatest? What if he had been injured a year or two ago and just wasn't the same? What if he hadn't won those championships with Miami? What if everything had fallen apart there, and he came limping home to Cleveland? Would we still be printing "Forgiven" T-shirts? Would be be lauding his return?
I keep hearing references to Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, as if LeBron had sinned in leaving us and was finally repenting. I think we forget that the prodigal son came home broke and pathetic. He had no wins. He had no success. The prodigal son was a loser who came back home hoping to get a job as a servant in the home where he was once a son.
Lebron is returning on top. He's got titles. He has money. He has attention. He is no prodigal son. Don't get me wrong. This is good news! I'm happy to have him return successful than lost. I just feel the need to point out that it doesn't usually happen this way.
Usually, when we feel hurt by someone, they don't come back when things are good. They ask for forgiveness when they are broken. The same is true of us. We don't usually go back to the people we have hurt or to the God who loves us when everything is good. We return pitiful and broken. We return when all else has failed.
I'm glad to have LeBron back. I'm even happier to consider the fact that God's forgiveness is not like mine. I shout "forgiveness" when the guy I was mad at shows up with two championships and millions of dollars in revenue. God forgives us when we are poor and pitiful. He loves us when we have wallowed with swine, when we are addicted and imprisoned. He loves us when we have scorned Him and squandered everything. He runs to us with arms wide-open and embraces our emaciated bodies, pig crap and all.
His love truly is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3).
LeBron isn't a prodigal son, I am. And, I'm thankful both of us came home.