Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son paints one of the most vivid pictures of the extraordinary riches of God’s grace. In Luke 15 we read:
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:11-24).
MERCY AND HOPE
Our natural inclination is to want to enjoy the good things of life while keeping God at a distance. This is true of the younger son in the story Jesus told. By asking his father for his inheritance ‘now’ he was in fact saying to his father, ‘Dad, I wish you were dead. I want to get on and enjoy life while I’m young and without having to be answerable to you’.
As the story unfolds, this son squanders his inheritance on extravagant parties with good-time friends. Inevitably, he finds himself without money to live on and without friends. In desperation he takes a position feeding pigs.
Reflecting on his plight, he resolved to return home and admit his failure to his father: ‘I have sinned before heaven and before you…Take me back as a ‘hired hand’’. He knew he was unworthy to be re-instated as a son.
Like most fathers, this father was aware of what his son was like, and no doubt of what he had done. But he still loved him. He had been watching for his son’s return. News came that he was coming home. Heedless of the scorn he would receive – for in running he was making a public spectacle of himself – the father ran down the road and embraced the black sheep of the family.
Totally overcome by this unexpected welcome, the son said, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Period. The son had planned to add, ‘Treat me as one of your hired servants’. But now he saw that this was not appropriate.
Repentance. He realized now that he’d never really known his father and that he had not understood what it was to have been his father’s son. His father loved him beyond measure. His father was prepared to do for him what he had not expected and certainly did not deserve. His father had given himself publicly, humiliatingly, for his sake.
Jesus wanted his hearers, and each of us, to understand that the father is like God. God has given most of us many good things to enjoy, but we, like the son, have become so preoccupied with the good things of life and our own lives in general, that we forget God.
With this parable, Jesus foreshadows another and far greater dimension and expression of God’s extraordinary love, for the shadow of his cross begins to fall across the scene. It is in and through the cross that we see more deeply into the character of God. His love triumphs over all. God loves each one of us far more than we can ever believe or deserve.
The story does not stop there. Before the younger son could catch his breath, his father was busy ordering new clothes, shoes and a ring – the best of everything. An elaborate and expensive feast was prepared and the father tells us why: “For this my son was dead, now he is alive, he was lost but now he has been found” (15:24). The wayward, rebellious boy who deserved nothing good from his father was to be reinstated as a son.
Luke 19:10 records Jesus’ words about himself and his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”. The younger son did not just regret his folly, but in turning back to his father and admitting his failure, was truly repentant. Through his father’s extraordinary and undeserved love, he is reinstated as a ‘son’. He saw that to serve his father as a ‘hired slave’ was completely inappropriate.
You may like to consider:
- the lessons to be learnt from the younger son;
2. the implications of the extraordinary grace of God in your life.
Let me encourage you to pray:
© The Rev. John G. Mason