Jesus’s parable of The Prodigal Son is one of his most famous. Individuals who have been around church for any amount of time will have heard the parable on multiple occasions. It is so popular that the themes are often picked up in other pieces of literature. It can become so familiar that we miss the power of the story. Recently I spent some time trying to hear the parable with fresh ears.
I share here my observations of that read:
- The older brother’s sin was that he thought he was better than the younger brother. He was more deserving of the Father’s love. He was more deserving of a place in the family. It is shameful when we read the story and think we are better than the older brother. Often when reading this story we vilify the older brother, how dare he be so self-righteous. But when we act that way, we become the older brother. When we read the story and think we are better than the older brother we ultimately become the self-righteous brother who can’t accept others into the family. The attitude of, “I don’t want to be part of a church of self-righteous people” is itself a self-righteous attitude. When we act this way, we are either in danger of removing ourselves from the family, or we are in danger of not accepting those different than us. One truth that should be evident in the story is that we are all sinners in need of the Father’s love and embrace.
- Following this thought we realize the extent of the Father’s love. The Father embraces both sons and brings them back into the family; both the wayward son and the self-righteous son. There is room in the family for both sides. The Father’s love spreads in both directions. In our current society that has embraced grace, we can often understand a Father who loves the sinner, probably because it’s easy to see ourselves as the sinner. What becomes shocking in the story however, is that the Father’s love is just as extreme for the self-righteous. Both are welcome in the family of God because both are loved by the Father. At times we forget this truth. It’s easy to consider ourselves liberal and pretend that those who are conservative/legalistic don’t belong anymore. They don’t really understand God if they don’t understand grace. However, the older brother wasn’t kicked out of the family. The Father embraced him, there was room at the table for the older Brother as well. In fact, the Father was hoping he would come to the table and join the party.
- It’s important to remember that the Father doesn’t just accept, the Father lavishes good gifts on the children which are not bound to performance. The younger son comes back repentant, and the Father greets him with new clothes, a ring, and a party. The gifts may seem extreme, especially for a son who has brought shame on the family and wasted his inheritance, but the gifts are a sign of the Father’s generous love. The Father longs for the children to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom. The Father also reminds the older son that he is welcome to enjoy the family gifts whenever he wants. The older son doesn’t have to do anything special to earn a party, he could celebrate at any time. The Father is always willing to share blessings with his children. The Father longs to give good gifts.
- Both sons are lost. It’s easier to see the lost son who leaves, but the lost son who stays may be in more danger. “I am a slave to you,” he says. The older son, while still at home, has removed himself from the family and become lost. So often we assume that everyone who is actively attending church is safe, yet many are struggling to hold on to faith. Both the wayward son and the self-righteous son are in need of the Father’s love.
- Which is why the story is ultimately about the Father. We often call the story the prodigal son, or even the prodigal son and the older brother. But the story is about the Father whose love is so strong for his children that when he loses them he works to get them back. Both are invited back by the father. Both are embraced by the father.
No one is beyond the father’s love or grasp.