Jesus is once again with the tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about the company He keeps so, as He has done before, Jesus tells a simple story, a parable, to teach a lesson.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the story of man with two sons, one who squanders his inheritance and returns home to beg forgiveness and is received back with warmth and celebration – that’s the short version!
The younger son asks his father for his share of the estate, his inheritance. Normally, an inheritance is received after the death of the owner; in essence the son was telling his father, “You’re dead to me, give me my money so I can get away from you and live my own life!” The son was legally entitled to the money and we know the father gave it to him because we are told that the son “gathered his things, left and squandered his estate with loose living”. Soon there is a famine and the son is broke! He finds a job tending pigs. He is now so hungry he would have been glad to eat the pig’s food! The son has neither money nor food and, to make matters worse, he is taking care of pigs – then as now, pigs are unclean to Jews.
The son, “came to his senses”, realizes his father’s servants have a better life than he does so he decides to return home. “But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran to him”. Notice that, one, his father was watching and waiting for him. Two, he ran to meet him; we don’t know the father’s age but dignified men did not run for anything! Third, in spite of all that had been said and done, the father felt compassion. They greet each other with an embrace and a kiss, the son is restored to his former position and dad starts planning the party! What a beautiful picture of how God responds to us when we recognize our sin and turn to Him; He watches and waits for our return and runs to us with His arms wide to welcome us.
Now the older son was in the field and he returns home to the party that started without him. His reaction? Anger. But, what exactly is making him so angry? “Look! For many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours yet you have never given me a young goat…but when this son of yours came who had devoured your wealth…you killed the fattened calf for him.”
The older son feels angry, jealous, bitter, unappreciated and disrespected. He was always “doing the right thing” and was not shown the recognition he thought he deserved. The father reminds the older son that all that belonged to the father, belonged to the son, the son only needed to ask and that now is the time for celebration, the younger son, who was assumed to be dead was home!
Whenever I read or hear The Parable of the Prodigal Son I recognize myself in each of the three characters.
I have been the younger son when I have deliberately rejected my Heavenly Father and decided to do it my way. There have been times I wasted the gifts given to me, the gifts of time, money, even people.
I have been the older son when I have resented others rewards or recognition; when I was bitter because someone else got the promotion or won the prize, when I felt disrespected or unappreciated.
And in my best moments, I have been the father when I extended grace and compassion to someone who has hurt me; when I’ve been quick to forgive and when I celebrated others successes.
It is humbling to realize that most of the time I am more like the sons than the father in this story. How about you, in The Parable of The Prodigal Son, which character are you?