For the next few days, I want to take a look at some foundational teachings in scripture that challenge our forgetfulness and wrongheaded ideas about who God is and what he expects from us. First up - a passage of scripture commonly described as the parable of the prodigal son. We are going to unpack it line by line. This parable is found in the gospel of Luke, and it is part of a string of parables taught by Jesus.
Jesus continued: “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.” Luke 15:11-12 NIV
This is highly unusual. In some cases, fathers might divide up an inheritance before death (with twice as much going to the older son) but retaining the income from the inheritance until his death. In this case, the younger son has asked his father a shameful thing. To demand an inheritance is ungrateful, presumptuous and gives the small community in which they lived the opportunity to judge the father as weak and his son has unworthy. But the father, who loves his son, puts himself in that position in order to give the son what he asks for. Will the son repay that generosity with gratitude?
“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.” Luke 15:13-16 NIV
There are three obvious issues here:
1. The younger son broke tradition and moved to a distant land, isolating himself from his family and tribe.
2. The younger son squandered his preemptively gained inheritance, putting his family in a weaker position financially.
3. He further demeans himself and his family by doing what no self-respecting Israelite would do - working with pigs.
This is the story of a young man who forgets who he is, but I do not think it is the central theme of the story. My friend Dale Ryan has renamed the parable from the story of the prodigal son to the story of the running father. I quite like that. For truly, as we are about to see, the story of the son is a common one - young people behaving in an immature fashion. But the father? He does something extraordinary. Stay tuned!