Parable of the Prodigal Son: Three Sides of the Story

Luke 15:11-32 tells a tale of a father and two sons.

As believers, it’s often easy to look at this parable as purely one of redemption. Yes, we see the youngest, demand his inheritance, leave home, and squander his dad’s hard earned money away. He hits an all-time low, and decides to return home, as a servant no less – even they have food and a place to lay their heads… But, there’s so much more to the story! I mean, sure, there isn’t much about the older brother. What does his story tell us about being the loyal, dutiful child? Then, the father. Compassion is what comes to my mind. Maybe because I so desperately need compassion and so desperately need to offer compassion. I see more than the “I was lost, now I’m found.” I think there’s more to be said of the others in the story.

Yeah, we believers love that story of redemption! Because, it applies to so many of us. We have our own stories of redemption. I have told my story sparsely throughout my blogs. Yet, I consider that younger brother. Whatever his reason, we are tempted and drawn away of our own lusts, for needing his inheritance right now, so that he could experience life for himself. He wanted to forsake everything he ever knew, everything he was ever taught, and live! Living costs. He found that out the hard way. He didn’t realize that while under his father’s protection, that he so desperately wanted to leave, there was so much provision.

He found himself so hungry that he was eating the same slop that he was hired to feed pigs. Everything he had forsaken started to come back to him. In all of his unworthiness, “I already took my inheritance. I am not fit to be called his son, but even the servants have it better than I do right now.” He decided to take that journey back home. To make the decision to turn around and journey home is often one of the most difficult things to do. Bathed in unworthiness, we who make the journey find how worthy we truly are, and how much Christ truly loves us.

What did he think when he saw his father in the distance begin to run towards him? Did his father see him first? Was the son so weary, and likely nervous about returning, “too late to turn back I’m just about home,” that he didn’t have his head held up? Or did he rush home? Needing to get back and didn’t see his father running towards him? As a Prodigal Son myself who has heard the stories of other Prodigals, that first step is the hardest, step to take, but once the mind is made up, the journey or process looks different. When he realized that his father was running towards him, did he run also? They meet, embrace. Son doesn’t expect this, nor does he expect to be clothed with the finest robes, or the fatted calf to be slaughtered. Celebration! And, he thought he was fit to only serve.

The older brother, out toiling away in the field. He has had to work extra hard, do double the work to pick up the slack since his brother left. He just knows that he is the only son that is loyal to dear old dad – when the day comes he will surely be rewarded. But, a day off would be nice. Burnout. Is that music? And singing? He goes inside and asks a servant, What’s going on? Anger. He doesn’t go inside, yet he doesn’t leave. He must just linger on the outside, looking in. Father comes out, “Why aren’t you coming inside?” Anger. Jealousy. Rage. Here it comes, no holding back: “All these years I have served you. I never did anything wrong, never made you worry. You never gave me anything! He gets a celebration, music, friends, fatted calf – I never got any of that from you.” Father is probably perplexed, “You have been with me all of these years, everything that I have is yours.” He goes on to explain why the celebration today. But, everything that is mine is yours. My how that resonates… We have to stop looking at what we don’t have, and start thanking God for what we do.

Maybe in different circumstances you come to understand what it is to be in the place of the father without being a parent, I don’t know? All I know is, being a parent, I am coming to understand the viewpoint of the father.

We do our best to train up our children in the way they should go, so when they are old they won’t depart. Clearly, it never fully departed from the son, he made his way back… But the father… When the son said, “Give me everything that you had planned for me now.” What did he think? Did he want to fight it? No! I’m not dead yet, if you want to leave go. He didn’t, he loved his child so much that he of course would not want him out in the world without money. After his son left, did he stand at the gate, day and night, waiting for him to return? The Bible says that he saw him from afar off and ran to him.

The father may have the most pivotal role in the entire story. We often equate him to Christ, yes. And what about parents? Can any parents identify? I certainly can. I see it as a model for parenting. The compassion he had for his son. Lessons to be learned in no particular order:

  1. Train our children up in the way they should go.
  2. Whether we approve or not, we don’t send our children into the world unprepared.
  3. We never give up on our children. Years may pass, we never give up.
  4. Love. There is power in love, mercy and compassion.
  5. Celebrate even the smallest victories.

The father surely grieved for his child, my son who was dead and is alive again. I asked earlier if he stood at the gate, waiting, watching for his son – day after day, year after year. I believe he did: my son who was lost now is found. He didn’t ask, “What happened to you?” “Where’s the money?” “Why do you look and smell as though you’ve been sleeping with pigs?” His son said, “I am not worthy to be called your son. Just hire me as a servant.” No, he called a servant to place a fine robe on his son’s back, a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet, kill the fatted calf, invite the neighbors, because today we celebrate! My son was dead but now he lives, he was lost, now he’s found!

Now that’s the heart of the story in my opinion. The compassion displayed. Let me be a parent like this!

I recall my Prodigal Son moment. Life had me so far bound, I had no place to turn but back to God, lest I die. Dying wasn’t an option. Continuing life that way, wasn’t an option either. Had it not been for that Prodigal Son experience, I would have never really experienced God’s grace, love, and compassion. How could He love a wretch like me? I am a sinner. I have desecrated Your name. I turned my back on You… Yet, here You are, arms outstretched, full of mercy, ready to welcome me home.

I can identify with each character in the parable. My my, life certainly is a mystery! I had a conversation last night, with my second godmother, and was touched by something she said to me… She said: I just love your spirit. You carry your past with your present, and I can see that you are working through it, but you are almost through it.

She has no idea what those words meant to me after the weekend I had. I nearly gave up, I nearly turned back. Am I so transparent? My many Prodigal moments… I pray I am never again the older brother. I hope to have compassion and ever be more the loving parent as in the father’s example. Lord grant me a heart full of mercy and compassion, please continue to work that in me, soften my heart.

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