The Prodigal Son—Luke 15:11–32

Albrecht Dürer - The Prodigal Son - WGA7275.jpg
The younger son in Jesus’ parable fell into hard times when he chose to seek the father’s inheritance without the father’s blessing. Picture by Albrecht DürerWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain,

Due to the length of this passage, I am simply providing a link to this passage online.

Far too often, I measure myself according to what I do, or what I have accomplished in life. This is probably part of the reason why many men my age go through a “mid-life crisis”: We reach a point when we realize we are in the later stages of our lives, and we do not see where we have made great accomplishments that will go down in history. Let’s face it: I know I will never play in a World Cup soccer tournament or have a number one record on the Billboard charts. I probably have a better chance of publishing a bestselling book, but most of my most elaborate dreams will not come true.

This emotional, existential affliction is not limited to 50-year-old men. Men and women of any age make the same mistake. We measure our worth according what we do. However, God is more concerned with who we are than with what we can accomplish.

While reading the parable of the Prodigal Son recently, I realized that both sons made the same mistake. They had a perspective on their relationship with their father that completely contradicted the father’s perspective. As a result, they missed out on much of what their father had to offer them.

The younger son chose to claim his inheritance without preserving his father’s presence. The parable begins with one of the worst insults a son could give his father: He wanted his inheritance, even though the father was still alive! Then, he took the money and ran, making a series of foolish choices and falling victim to misfortune. When he realized his bankruptcy, he decided to ask his father to hire him as a servant.

Many Christians want the privileges of a relationship with Jesus, without the actual relationship. How many want to go to heaven someday, but do not want to pray, or worship God, or serve Him now? “Let me say a sinner’s prayer, and maybe go to church (as long as it entertains me or makes me feel good about myself). Let me enjoy my life as much as possible right now, using God’s blessings to make me happy, and give lip service to Jesus Christ. He will give me everlasting life in heaven when I die, just because I said that sinner’s prayer once. When I go to heaven, maybe they’ll have wide-screen TVs!” (OK, I rarely hear people pondering televisions in heaven, but I think most of us imagine a vacation resort in the clouds, with little thought of Jesus.)

The older son made the opposite mistake. He stayed in the father’s presence, but he viewed himself more as a slave than a son. He measured his relationship with the father as a job, not a privileged position as a family member. In verse 29, he said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” How does the father respond? “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (verse 31). The father seems to be hinting, “You never asked! I would have let you have a goat so that you could invite your friends over for a party!” This son is willing to work like a slave, but does not realize that his father wants more from him: He wants him to think of himself as a son, with the privileges of that relationship, not as a servant with just a list of obligations.

I have to admit that I relate to this older son more in my relationship with Christ. It is easy for me to turn my faith into a to-do list. Have I prayed enough today? Have I read the Bible enough? Here’s a new ministry at church: I had better get involved, even though I’m already involved in a few other things.

The lesson for all of us is clear: Seek that relationship first. Spend time with your Father: Not out of obligation, but as a chance to build a relationship. When you receive a blessing from God (a better job, a healing, an answer to prayer), stay close to Him. Serve Him out of love, not as a slave, but as a son or daughter.

Both sons in the parable missed a blessing. They both needed to learn that their privileges were gifts from the father: undeserved; freely available if they would seek and ask; and best enjoyed in a relationship with Him.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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