The Parable of the Prodigal Son is arguably the most well-known of any of Jesus’ parables. It’s a beautiful story. A son essentially abandons his father, runs away to live a life of debauchery, and is eventually welcomed home by the same father that he abandoned. Even if that was the full story, it would still be beautiful, but there’s so much more to it than just that. Due to the massive cultural differences that stand between us and the telling of this story, there are a few things that are easy for us to miss. First of all, a son asking for his inheritance while his father is still alive would essentially be like telling your father that you want him to die. Most parents in that day would have thrown the son out on his own with nothing. Second, by agreeing to give his son his share of the inheritance, this meant that the father’s estate would have been split in half. So, half of his land, cattle, and money would have been given to the son and likely sold. Third, there would have been an enormous amount of shame for a father in this position. The son choosing to leave without his inheritance would have brought heaping amounts of shame onto the family, but selling his inheritance and running would have destroyed any social standing that this family had in their community. All of that to say, the son’s actions in this parable would have impacted every single aspect of his father’s life and his father knew that, but agreed to meet the wishes of his son anyways.
From the very beginning of this story, we see a man who heaps grace upon grace onto his son. This isn’t simply a story of a father forgiving his son once he returns from his sinful life, this is a story of a man willing to lose everything because of the love he had for his son. Then, after the heartbreak of essentially losing a child, the embarrassment of losing half of his estate, and the social fallout that would have been inevitable, he still welcomes his child back with open arms.
Clearly, this parable is meant to embody God’s love for His children, but it does more than just that. It is reminiscent of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, it demonstrates the power of divine forgiveness, and it gives us a clear and simple teaching on what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Today, we read about the father and the lost son. Tomorrow, we will read the second half of the parable, which includes the other son. Consider this story from all perspectives. Put yourself in the position of the father and consider the areas in your life in which you can demonstrate such love and forgiveness. Put yourself in the position of the prodigal son and consider where you need to go to seek forgiveness. Put yourself in the position of the other brother and recognize the areas in which you have failed to recognize the beauty of someone “coming home.” It seems to me that we often view ourselves as the prodigal son who is being accepted and forgiven by our Father, but I think that we can put ourselves in the position of every character in the story and learn from all of them.
(By Cody Poinsett)