Most of us are suckers for a good story, and that's probably one of the reasons Jesus used parables to illustrate His messages.
The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 has everything: a rich father, an obedient son, a spoiled brat, and plenty of drama. In verse 11, Jesus details the crisis which upends this family.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
It would have been a great insult for a son to ask for his inheritance before the father dies. Then the son adds insult to injury when he squanders his Dad’s well-earned fortune. The so-called friends he made during his party days have abandoned him, and he finds himself hunkering down with pigs, the lowest of the low in first century Jewish culture.
The good news is Jesus’ stories never end with cliff-hangers. When the son decides to grovel to his father and beg for leniency, he gets the surprise of his life.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15: 20-24).
The father in this story represents God, and the son is us. What can we learn from this father-son relationship? We learn about love, actually.
God gives good gifts to his children. Matthew 7: 9-11 states this clearly, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” God isn’t stingy with his love, mercy, grace, or blessings. He also will allow us to go through circumstances He knows won’t benefit us in order to lovingly draw us back to Him.
Be humble. The son deserved to be turned away, and he knew it. Yet he got up out of the slop and walked to the only source who could redeem him – his dad. He wasn’t looking for a handout, but expected his deserved punishment. Humility is the virtue which says, “I was wrong, I’m sorry, and I’ll accept the consequences.”
Don’t be a party pooper. After the father plans a party for his lost-and-found son, the other one gets mad. I would be mad too! The younger brother has the audacity to insult and betray his dad and run off, only to be rewarded with a party? The obedient son's response is telling: “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Celebrations are for the strong and the weak, the found and the faithful. If God invites us to the party, we should gladly R.S.V.P.
Be thankful. Our deserved punishment is to be turned away from the father’s gate, yet God runs to meet everyone who wanders and returns. We may be walking a straight path now, but what about tomorrow? Be grateful God extends His open arms to all who repent.
God is a good father, and His love has no expiration date. If you’ve been faithful, praise God. If you’ve wandered and found repentance, praise God. His love knows know bounds, and that is worth celebrating.