Prodigal Adjustments, Part One
Luke 15:11, 17, 20 Then [Jesus] said: “A certain man had two sons… But when [the younger son] came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!’…And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”
The story of the “prodigal son” is so well known in Western culture that many an unbeliever could provide the basics of the story. Yet its simple interpretation of a selfish, straying child who comes home after a rough time is both off-kilter and woefully incomplete.
First, we think of it as a story of a son. It’s actually the story of a father and his two sons. Some middle Eastern cultures, which are closer to the culture of the original story, only know this as the “Father with Two Sons” story, with the emphasis firmly on the father.
Seen from this perspective, we see an aggrieved father treated abominably by his younger son. In short, the younger son’s actions imply that, by taking his inheritance early and forcing him to divide his property prematurely, he is acting (wishing?) his father were dead.
The scene shifts temporarily to the younger son and his activities. Contrary to what many think, the term “prodigal” doesn’t mean one who has run away. “Prodigal” means reckless, being wasteful or foolish in terms of money and/or time. Yes, the younger son went away, but the emphasis is on his wasteful living, and the wretched place that kind of living brought him to.
Much attention has been paid to the son’s moment of self-realization, as if that were his moment of conversion. Luke 15:17 says that “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’”
“Coming to oneself” isn’t about salvation. It’s about realizing the bad state one is in. That leads him back to his father, yes, but with his own plan of how he will repair the damage he’s done and how he will get back in the father’s good graces.
That plan is completely interrupted, however, by the father, who has been waiting and watching, and goes running after the son (something a man of his age and dignity would not normally have done in that culture). The son can’t even get his plan out before the father completely receives him and showers his love and acceptance on him, which was always the father’s plan.
We all know those that have departed from the faith, and hope and pray that they will come to themselves, too. But the real wake-up call is to come to the Father who has been patiently waiting, looking and longing for the rebel to come to him. The real value of the story is the glimpses it gives us into the heart of our heavenly Father, who waits to receive us and shower us with family blessings.
Prayer: Father, help me to see You in this famous parable. Thank You that You were waiting and watching for me, and that when I came to You, You received me so graciously and generously. May I present to others that same picture of You.