The parable of the prodigal (lost) son is found in Luke 15:11-32. The parable is about a father who has two sons. The older son stays home and tends to his father’s farm. The younger son leaves home with his inheritance and squanders it. After realizing his mistake, the younger son longs to return home but is so ashamed of his actions he feels unworthy. He ultimately returns home asking his father to hire him on as a servant. This young man is starving, defeated, and wallowing in the muck that surrounds us when we find ourselves wallowing in regret. But his father doesn’t hire him as a servant- his father is elated to see him! His father throws a banquet in his son’s honor, overjoyed that the son who once was lost has returned home. The older son is not so enthusiastic. He is jealous. After all he is the one who stayed with his father and tended to the business. Envious of the hoopla over his brother’s homecoming, he wonders where his banquet is?
We are the prodigal. We are the ones who get lost and God is rejoicing over us when we return home. He throws a banquet in our honor. His son or daughter who was lost is back home where we belong.
I think that if we get in a really honest place with ourselves we can recognize times in our lives where we’ve played each of these roles. We’ve been lost, jealous, and forgiving. That’s the reason why Jesus included these three distinct roles in the parable; so we would see reflections of our lives in the story.
We’ll spend this week meditating about the roles we play in this parable. Sometimes we are the prodigal, sometimes we are the brother, and sometimes we are welcoming a prodigal home.
Let’s kick this off by recognizing how it happens. How do we get so lost? In a nutshell, we wander off. We take our own path, we carve our own way, and we get ahead of God.
Have you ever been the lead car in a caravan and had this experience? One of the folks following you decides to pull ahead and for the next few miles you wonder how this is going to work because the person who has no idea where they are going is now ahead of you. Eventually that person has to slow down and work their way back into the caravan behind you to follow you to the destination.
This is what happens when we become the prodigal. We get ahead of God. We stop following Him, we go off in our own direction thinking that we know what is best, and we end up in a murky pit of a mess praying to God to save us from it, and He does. Can’t you just see Him shaking His head and saying “how did you wind up here? This is not what I had for you.” And every time, like the father in the parable, He welcomes us home.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Jeremiah 31:3 makes it clear. God’s love is everlasting and unfailing. It isn’t dependent on what we do. There is no “except for” clause in the verse. There is no variance, or scale of love based on our actions. It is everlasting and unfailing. So welcome home, prodigal.
Now let’s look at the role of the brother and reflect on the times in our lives when we’ve shared some of his personality characteristics. Let’s set the stage…
The older brother was working in his father’s fields. It is hot, he is working hard, taking care of business. Suddenly he hears the sounds of music, celebration, a party? A servant rushing by to help with the preparations tells him that his younger brother, who ran off leaving the older brother to shoulder all of the responsibility, is back and their father is throwing him a party.
Can you put yourself in the place of the older brother? Here you’ve set your own plans aside and taken care of the estate and your father day in and day out. You not only handled your own share of the work needed to run the estate but also your brother’s share after he ran off to grab life by the horns. You have been a dedicated and responsible caretaker. Where is your party? Your father should be having a parade to celebrate you, right? Can’t you just feel his righteous indignation?
Adjust the perspective for a moment. Step back and look at it again.
The older brother honored his responsibilities. He honored his father. His story is different from his brother’s and the plan that God had for him is different. When we compare ourselves to someone else jealousy takes over and clouds our ability to see the gifts God lavishes on us. Don’t miss your own rewards coveting something you believe someone else has that should be yours.
The older brother received the gift of time with his parent; time that the younger brother missed out on. Read what his father says to him in Luke 15:31: “My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.“
The older brother let’s jealousy squash his spirit. Envy becomes an idol, wedging itself between us and God. We squash envy when we take control of our perspective, focus on our blessings and our path. When jealousy leeches in mediate on these verses:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:16)
The last role in the parable of the prodigal for us to explore is the father’s role.
The parable of the prodigal defines and illustrates God’s love for us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” After we repent, God welcomes us home as the father welcomes his young son in the parable of the prodigal and our past is forgotten.
Jesus did not include details in the parable about whether the young son had run off before, or if this was the first time. Was he disobedient, or rebellious? We don’t know, and there’s a reason for that. For the purpose of the parable of the prodigal the young son’s past isn’t important.
Jesus also does not include any follow up details in the parable. There is no “reunion follow up show” to the prodigal. We don’t know if the young son stays home or bolts again. We don’t know how many times this process may have repeated itself. And there’s a reason for that too. For the purpose of the parable of the prodigal, the future actions of the young son also are not important.
But what about when we find ourselves in the role of the father? How do we forgive a prodigal and welcome them home without enabling them, interfering in God’s plan for them, or putting ourselves in harm’s way? Does the parable really tell us that we have to let people who have betrayed us and abandoned us back in our lives and throw them a party when they finally decide they would like to come home. I think there are times when that is the right thing to do, and I think there are times that God’s plan requires different action. The key is deferring to God and seeking His will before taking any action.
In Touch Ministries has a daily devotional in their August 2015 publication titled “Getting in God’s Way”. I’d like to suggest that people who find themselves in the role of the father in the prodigal parable mediate on these concepts.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
“Believers are called to be compassionate, but we must show discernment even when practicing kindness. At times, stepping into someone’s life can block what God is doing with that person. I learned this lesson the hard way. On several different occasions, I stepped into situations I shouldn’t have. Once, I met a need when the Lord was trying to draw someone into a life of spiritual dependence. Another time, I offered comfort when the divine plan was for a heartbroken believer to seek the Lord’s solace. On still another occasion, I bailed a desperate person out of trouble before he learned God’s lesson. Nowadays, I pray before acting on sympathetic feelings.
Peter once allowed feelings to cloud his discernment, too. Attempting to interfere in the divine plan for Jesus Christ was an experience he never forgot.
Though Peter knew exactly who Jesus was- namely, the Messiah and Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16)- he also held common Jewish misconceptions about the Messiah’s mission. Many Israelites awaited a king who would overthrow Roman rule. Consequently, Peter refused to accept Jesus’ warnings of the judgment, mistreatment, and death He anticipated. After trying to convince the Lord that such an end was impossible, the disciple was rebuked for attempting to subvert God’s will.
Peter had a narrow view of God’s plan. The Lord’s priority was to liberate hearts from sin rather than bodies from tyranny. Peter’s wrong perceptions led him into open rebellion. do not make this mistake. Seek God’s will before offering compassionate aid, lest you obstruct His unfolding plans.”
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22)
As children of God we become lost when we rebel, make decisions on our own, and turn our backs on our Father. When we realize we are lost and come running back to His open arms we are the prodigal.
Luke 15:22 explains exactly what happens to us when we come running back to Jesus.
- He wraps us up in the “best robe“. Isaiah 61:10 tells us what the best robe is: garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness. “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)
- He puts a ring on our finger. The ring is a gift that symbolizes our belonging, our place in the flock. It signifies commitment to Him.It is a symbol of faith and of salvation. It is a thing of beauty, just like our relationship with Jesus. Genesis 41 reads “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.“
- He takes care of our every need, including protecting our feet. In the days that Jesus was telling this parable sandals were worn by owners, and not by slaves. In the parable the significance of the sandals is to show that the prodigal returned home with the same privilege and comfort as a son, and not as a slave. Philippians 4:19 says “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” He supplies all of our needs right down to the soles of our feet. Romans 10:15 says “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” What better news is there than to tell others about Jesus?
You’re home. You’re safe. Take your place in the flock. Feel yourself be wrapped in the robe of salvation and righteousness. Proudly wear the ring that symbolizes your commitment. Let Him provide for your every need. Welcome home, prodigal.
“Come Running Like A Prodigal”
It’s been a long time since you felt peace
In the valley you made where you’re not meant to be
Where the shame throws shadows on you
But don’t you forget
That you’re headed to more
But you’ve settled for less
Don’t buy the lie “it’s as good as it gets”
The same feet that left you lost and alone
Are the very same feet that can bring you back home
Wherever you are, whatever you did
It’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
Your Father will meet you with arms open wide
This is where your heart belongs
Come running like a prodigal.