If you were to ask someone to name a parable or two, I am sure that the Parable of the Prodigal Son would be near the top of the list of favorites. Some have said it’s the world’s greatest short story. But more than that, it is our story — in particular, it is our story in relationship with God.
There are three basic questions that we bring to a particular passage of scripture: What does this say about us? What does this say about God? What does this say about the relationship between God and us? This parable is a favorite of so many because of the profound answers it gives to those questions.
What does this say about us? We can find ourselves in this parable as either the elder son or the younger son. There can be times when we are like the younger son and we drift away from God or march away from God. We get lost. We find ourselves in a metaphorical “far country” and we’re miserable. We yearn to go home. We crave meaning and purpose. We desire forgiveness and restoration.
There can be times when we are like the elder brother who has never left and who is faithful, but resents his younger brother. We can be like the elder brother, refusing or at least neglecting to show hospitality to the one who has been lost.
What does this say about God? God is like the most loving parent we can imagine. Jesus called God Abba, which is usually translated as “Father,” but has more the sense of “Daddy.” The father in the parable yearns for his son to return home. He wants so much for his son to find meaning and purpose. He watches and waits every day for his son to return so that he can forgive him and restore their broken relationship.
What does this say about the relationship between God and us? God stands always ready to welcome home the one who has strayed as the loving father stood looking longingly down the road every day for the joyous sight of his son returning home. God forgives and restores our relationship.
And here’s one more question: Where do you find yourself in this story?
I look forward to our worship on Sunday when I will share some insights from this beloved parable.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Common English Bible (CEB)
1 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Jesus told them this parable: 11b “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27 The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”