Have you ever felt alienated from the Father and you knew it was your own doing? Perhaps it was your stubborn and self-centered actions that brought about the estrangement. I think we have all found ourselves in that place.
The Wayward Son
Jesus tells a story of such a person in Luke chapter 15,
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
This is a familiar story; we all learned it in Sunday school. We have heard it preached many times from the pulpit. In fact, it is so familiar that perhaps we do not hear its message.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
In the story, the son did not leave right away, but soon he picked up his stuff and left home. It is normal for mature sons to leave home and pursue their own lives, but it seems that this son wasted everything his father had given him.
Unfortunately, difficult times came upon the country and he had insufficient resources to survive it, so he found himself forced to take a lowly job without making enough even to overcome his hunger.
The Son Returns
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
In his distress and degradation, the son began to think of his Father’s house and, though he still felt alienated because of his behavior, he decided to go hire himself out to his own Father. Perhaps he thought his Father would be angry and reject him, but he did not.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
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.
The son had spent plenty of time thinking about how he had disrespected and disappointed his Father; he knew he had created alienation between them, but he yearned to be near his Father anyway. He expressed his humility and remorse.
However, his Father had no ear for his son’s self-deprecation and ordered a feast!
How Does this Story Apply to Us?
Many of us often feel like this wayward son alienated from his Father, and we yearn to repair the alienation as best we can, even though we think we are not worthy of it because of the way we have behaved, but in this story we discover that the Father is ready for a celebration when we return.
We usually call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Son, though Luke never says so; and we assume that the story is all about this wayward son, but I am not so sure. There is another character who has not yet appeared in the story—the resentful brother, and I wonder if the story is really about HIM.
We will investigate this thought next time.