I am a prodigal Christian. This statement may cause you to think of a parable that many of us learned when we were children, the story of the prodigal son. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told a parable about a father that had two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the family estate. When the father gave it to him, he immediately sold it and traveled to a distant land where he lived prodigally. The word prodigal is defined as “wastefully, or recklessly extravagant, lavishly abundant, and profuse.”
After the young man had squandered everything in the distant land, he became desperate and hired himself out to a pig farmer. In humility, the son came to his senses and decided to return to his father to ask if he could work as a hired hand. The amazing part of Jesus’ parable is that although the broken son deserved to be punished, the father lavished him with love and restored him to a privileged position in the family. The older, obedient son was angry with his father and refused to celebrate the return of this wayward brother to the family. Again, rather than scolding the older son, the father had compassion, and told him “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.” (Luke 15:31-32, NIV)
I know that most of us have heard sermons based on this parable, and I understand that this story is a beautiful illustration of grace. It is easy to find prodigals like the younger son in this world. Life sure would be easier if we just listened and responded to Godly advice, wouldn’t it? How many of us have broken our parents’ hearts when we lived through periods of rebellion? Imagine how it breaks our Heavenly Father’s heart to allow us to make foolish decisions, and bring unnecessary hardship into our lives. The parable father let his youngest son learn the hard way. He didn’t force his son to be obedient, he simply waited for his son to repent and come home.
I think that many of us can also relate to the feelings of the older brother, who always strove to do the will of his father. It angers us to watch prodigal brothers and sisters hurt our parents, and rob our families of joy. It is so easy to sit in judgment of people who don’t have it all together like us. If there was anyone who deserved to feel this way about others, it was Jesus. Lucky for us, Jesus was nothing like the older son in the parable. The Bible says Jesus, “had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18, NIV) If Jesus rejoices when His prodigal brothers and sisters drop the pig slop and come home, shouldn’t we?
My children are too young to venture out on their own yet, so I have not been challenged with the feelings of the father in this parable (yet). To be honest, I have not stopped to think much about the feelings of the father before. I have always associated the father in the parable to our Heavenly Father. The more that I think about this parable, however, the more that I realize that the father represents forgiveness. How willing am I to forgive those that have wronged me? Would I slaughter the fattened calf and bring out my finest robe to cloth those that have taken advantage of me? Would I take the time to reason with others who have been hurt by prodigals, and beg them to forgive too?
If we get honest with God and ourselves, I believe that all of us would have to admit that we are prodigals in training. We all miss the mark, and are in constant need of forgiveness and support from our Father and our big brother, Jesus. Our Heavenly Father and His Son love us with prodigal love. I believe that our only response to this prodigal love is to be thankful, and to love them back. I also think that we should act like Jesus, and spend our lives praying for, and welcoming our brothers and sisters back home from the pig farm. What are you and I doing today to reach out to the fellow prodigals in our lives?