11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[b] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c] 22 But the father said to his servants,[d] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I mightcelebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Broken and Restored
Each character in the story of the Prodigal Son is significant. We have just read about the lost sheep and the lost coin. Now Jesus expands on the theme and tells us about the lost son. It was foolish for a father to give money to his son before his death. There was no guarantee that the children would look after their father in his dotage. Since God is represented in the Father, we see no coercion in his love. His love allows for total freedom and the youngest son uses this freedom to live for himself.
The older son is obedient and faithful, however there is a great contrast between how both sons view their father. At the beginning the sons both are looking out for themselves. The older son is working faithfully for his own inheritance, as we see at the end. The younger son wants to live in the here and now. Although both sons are self-focused one lives for immediate pleasure and one carefully plans for the future and abides by the rules.
When the younger son squanders his wealth he remembers the true character of his father and appreciates it for the first time. He goes through the process of brokenness to true surrender. In that surrendered position he finds the grace of God.
The older son is neither broken nor surrendered. He resents his resources being squandered by his father. The son who took a third of the inheritance and ran seems to now be taking more. It is not that the younger son is taking them from the father, the older son would see his own future possessions and his own father being given to the foolish younger son.
The parable illustrates that it is possible to keep the rules but lack relationship with our fellow human beings and also with God. We are protective, insular, and self-obsessed.
The question for Jesus’ listeners is whether they would live out the life of the father or the older son in the parable. That question is rooted in whether we know the character of God and depend upon him or whether we are busy building up our own eternal security in his name.
I am the prodigal. I have looked for acceptance and squandered so much of what I grew up with. However, when I returned to you, you clothed me in purple, you put a ring on my finger and you restored what was broken. May I ever be grateful and keep looking to you for the next step.
- What two parables precede this one?
- To whom is Jesus talking?
- Why do they need to hear this parable?
- How do you respond to those who walk away from the faith or fail?
- With which character in the story do you identify?