Modern Lessons of the Prodigal Son
For many, the “Prodigal Son”—the biblical one, not the Fox network TV show—is a familiar story: the youngest son of a Jewish landowner demands his share of his father’s inheritance, squanders it, and returns home. With hat in hand, he begs to simply be hired as a servant.
The story took on new meaning personally about seven years ago, when I was battling frustration after running behind on a deadline for a magazine story.
Besides that stress, the editor of an online devotional had asked me to rewrite my latest contribution, suggesting I use the prodigal son as the basis for a replacement.
Upset and feeling pressed for time, I set aside an hour one day to get started on the task, which I planned to complete the next day.
Then, it happened: it was as if God opened my brain and poured in spiritual insight. In a flash of time, the Holy Spirit revealed several points to the story I had never noticed:
- This was the third parable Jesus told the Pharisees in a brief span, and each time they were getting progressively madder.
- They were particularly bothered by the idea of a Jew associating with Gentiles.
- If that weren’t enough, to suggest that the son of a wealthy landowner would get into a pigpen and slop around for food was an insult of epic proportions.
I could envision the group frowning as they huffed in unison: “No self-respecting Jew would get into a pig pen. Doesn’t this guy know we don’t eat pork? Who does he think He is?”
To say they were mad fails to capture their fury.
The reason this was so amazing was I had not previously been aware of these implications. In the twinkling of an eye, I knew the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.”
I literally experienced that inspiration. In just 45 minutes I wrote the entire devotional, after planning to spend an hour just starting. I emailed it in the next day and the editor quickly replied, “This is fine.”
More Insights from the Prodigal Son
Recently, I developed a deeper appreciation for this parable when our pastor preached a sermon about it. He brought out more parallels between the wealthy landowner and God, and how the father in the parable represented the Father in heaven.
Our pastor also discussed the aspect of the father in the story running to welcome his son home. In that era, Jewish men weren’t supposed to run. To do so would mean their robe would flap up and expose their legs. That would be considered a disgrace.
In addition, he talked about how the Pharisees would have looked down their noses at the son, who had insulted his father so seriously he could never be forgiven. So the idea of his father running—and to forgive this wayward son—made them even madder.
But the fact the father saw his son before the prodigal was even aware of it shows how God comes looking for us, even in our smelly sinful condition.
“This is why Jesus died for you, not because you’re so great, but because My love is so great,” he said of the moral of the story. “This is what’s going on here. It’s a wonderful picture of what God does.”
It was a great reminder of how God came looking for me when I was the same kind of smelly prodigal.