We all know the story of the prodigal son: he took his inheritance, spent it all, came back humbled and sorry, and his father rejoices, slaughtering the fattened calf. Meanwhile, his brother gets all in a huff because he has always done the “right” thing and was never celebrated as his brother is on his return. Dad’s response? “But everything I have is yours” and “now is the moment to celebrate your brother’s return.” (See Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
As I reflect on this familiar parable I see that each character and relationship shares something with us about Jesus and our Faith. Each can affect us differently depending on where we are in our walk with God and in life.
As a child, I always felt like the obeying son. Sibling rivalry is a very real thing and it did not make sense to me as a child, and even a young adult, that this father would just forgive his wrong-doing son so easily and so completely.
In my mind, it felt like the parable was encouraging us to act selfishly and irresponsibly because we would always be forgiven in the end. I related to the feelings of resentment from one sibling to the other. As a child, so many moments are “not fair” and Jesus addresses these very real emotions. And His answer? Compassion.
Today, reading Luke’s words again, I started to tear up. As a parent, I pictured my own son or daughter coming down that road after being “lost” and I imagined running to them and embracing and immediately forgiving all because my child had returned and was sorry and that was all I needed.
I think that’s an important part of the parable: the prodigal son is apologizing for his past actions. This is no return to ask for more money or returning with an unchanged heart. This child knows exactly what he did wrong and even admits he isn’t worthy to be this man’s son based on his previous actions.
Our love for our children is a glimpse into the love God has for us. Though, just as a child never truly comprehends their parents’ love for them, we can never fully know God’s unending, constantly forgiving, and always hoping love for each of us. It is truly baffling and humbling and awe-inspiring. It’s also so comforting and quieting when we let ourselves embrace it.
Turning to the good son, the loyal son, let’s look at Jesus’s words regarding him: ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” I think sometimes this can be hard to grasp because one could reason that if we had everything, we would not have pain or stress, illness or loss. How can we have everything that is God’s when we still suffer
What we have is HIM.
Prayer and the conscious decision to include God in our lives daily, in our thoughts and our actions, literally gives us everything. Stress is lifted. Illness can be borne with grace. Loss is seen as temporary. When we really feel that we are walking with God, or even being carried, as in the Footprints story, we know that anything that this earthly life gives us can be borne and even used as a way to give us more grace for ourselves and others, to grow us into the people we were meant to be.
So now, when I read this, I smile when I hear the father’s words to his loyal son because I hear God telling these same words to me, and I BELIEVE Him. I now know that as long as I continue to be a good person and to walk with Him daily, I will have everything both here and in whatever comes next. And that gives me such a sense of peace.
Yes, I’m sure the prodigal son had some fun. I’m sure for a while he did only what felt good and enjoyed every irresponsible moment of it. But during those times, he was not moving forward. And ultimately, he moved backwards. No momentary pleasure is worth standing still during this short time that is our earthly life.
The prodigal son parable has so many layers: the father, the obedient son, and prodigal son, the brother relationship. I highly suggest you take a moment to sit down and ponder God’s words in Luke’s Chapter 15 and see how this parable pertains to you today.
I’m curious: What character in the prodigal son parable speaks to you in this season of your life? How so?
Until next time,