17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise 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 as one of your hired servants.”’ – Luke 15:17-19 (ESV)
One of my favorite qualities of the Bible is the economy of it’s writing. There are no wasted words.
There are passages so rich, so filled with God, that they reveal something new and wonderful with every reading.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one such passage. In 22 short verses, Jesus provides us with a story so full of wisdom and love that we can go back again and again – and again – and repeatedly mine gold nuggets from the same spot.
One could write a book on all the Prodigal Son and his family have to teach us.
I’m sure people already have.
Maybe I should.
This parable is the story of all of us in so many ways. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all rebels in one way or another. Every sin we commit is rebellion against God. (If we stop for just a moment and truly allow that reality to soak into our brains, we should shudder at the thought.)
Consider this: The definition of a prodigal is one who has much and squanders what he/she is given. And the younger son in Luke 15 clearly had no appreciation for what the material wealth of his father’s household. Perhaps everything had come easy to him. Perhaps he was spoiled or simply immature. Perhaps he was just rebellious, wanting to get away from his dad and older brother and do life his way.
What is clear is that the younger brother had no desire to serve his father or work the fields with his older brother. He wanted to party. Wine, women and song. Black limousines, hitting the clubs, picking up prostitutes…
The prodigal asked his dad for his inheritance a little early. What a slap in his father’s face. “I know you’re not dead yet, but can I have my inheritance now?” And the father, who loves his child regardless of what he does, gives him his share.
This young, immature man goes off with his inheritance. Understand, this is the fruit of his father’s labor, not his. He’s done nothing to earn this inheritance. He certainly doesn’t deserve it.
And he squanders it all on what the KJV calls “riotous” living.
Things so bad. The money runs out. A famine hits. And here is the Prodigal Son with no means of supporting himself. He ends up feeding pigs and hungering for their food. Therein lies one of life’s great lessons: sin only leaves you wanting more. It’s insatiable, like a huge, immoral tapeworm.
A Jewish reader of this passage would probably understand the depth of this young depravation, for there is nothing filthier than a pig. Swine are the ultimate in unclean animals. For a man to fall from serving a loving a father to serving pigs – and lusting to feed from the same trough as them – is about as bad as a fall from grace can get.
The Prodigal Son just couldn’t go any lower. He bottomed out.
We need to understand what we have been given. To do that, we need to hit bottom. We need to catch ourselves glaring hungrily at the slop in the hog trough. We need to see the depth of our depravity.
And then we need to do what the prodigal did at the bottom.
We need to come to our senses.
We need to look around and say, “This is useless. I’m starving.”
Then we need to humbly go home. Go to our Father. Understand that we do not deserve His forgiveness, but we ask for it anyway. Be humble. Be broken. Be contrite. Seek His forgiveness. Seek to simply serve Him.
In other words, repent.
And, while none of us deserves it, look at how the father treated his young son upon his return:
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And 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 servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:20-24 (ESV)
It’s never too late. The grace, love, mercy and kindness of our Heavenly Father is limitless, boundless, unending. You can do nothing to negate God’s love for you.
Don’t feel so ashamed that you think God won’t take you back. Don’t feel such guilt that you can’t believe anyone else knows how you feel. Lift your head up from the slop and look around. We have all fed from the same trough.
If you need to go back home, begin your journey now. The Father will greet you with open arms!
If you’ve come back home, don’t look back at the pig trough. Understand this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). You have been set free!
And the one the Lord sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). In other words, this isn’t merely some abstract religious teaching. You are truly, with 100% certainty, fully and completely free from the sin you once lived, from the prodigal life, from the mistakes of your past and present.
Live free! Revel in God’s love and grace, and love God and others. And, yes, you may face naysayers and near-do-wells who knew you back then, knew you s the prodigal, and don’t want you to forget the old you. Don’t worry about them. Live free anyway!
But, that’s another lesson for another time. See what I meant? A passage rich with God’s wisdom and love.