The prodigal son … we’ve heard it countless times and thanks to Luke, we get it. Right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And so we get it the point before the story is ever told … there is great rejoicing by God for the one who returns home.
Since Jesus first told this parable, those that have heard this story and taught it have always focused on the prodigal son’s return. But the way Jesus begins the story should mean that we can’t ignore that this is a story of two sons. Remember Jesus says at the start: “There was a man who had two sons.”
Maybe we have missed the whole point of this story because we have long focused on the wrong son.
Let’s recap the story of BOTH sons:
A man had two sons and the younger son demanded his inheritance and took the money and ran. He went away and wasted all the money on wild living. He ended up broke, hungry and miserable in the mud and mess of a hog pen. When he came to his senses, he confessed to God that he had sinned and he headed home. He wasn’t sure how his father would receive him, so he was prepared to take the job of a servant. But when the father saw him, he ran to meet him. The Father embraced his son and they had a wonderful celebration.
So if you are hear this story and you are someone who is distant from GOD, far from the Father’s provision and love- you identify with the prodigal son.
If you are someone who has ever hit rock bottom, who has tried everything to rise up from the pigpen, but to no avail – you identify with the prodigal son.
If you are someone who knows what it means to come to your senses and long for home, someone who believes there is still mercy in God’s heart – you identify with the prodigal son.
For all the prodigal sons, Jesus wants you to know that, just like the Father in the story, God is willing and waiting to receive you back. There is nothing you’ve done that is so bad that God won’t forgive you and embrace because God Loves you just as you are! He’s waiting for you. He has suffered for you. You can go home again. A Heavenly celebration is planned for you. So come home.
And for most of us that is all that we know or believe about this story.
So it would be nice if the story ended there, BUT IT DOESN”T
What about the other son?
Meanwhile the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” He replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
For lack of a better term, I am going to call this older son – ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigal’. Jesus was far more direct in the day. For Jesus the other son in the story was the religious establishment – those who had a problem letting go of the traditions & establishment of the day. This other son represented the many religious people today who haven’t sinned against God by running off and going wild.
These ‘stayed-at-home Prodigals’ have been around the church a long time keeping a pew warm or perhaps a sofa at home, but when it comes to really celebrating what God is doing in the lives of others, they have forgotten how to rejoice.
I’m convinced there are more people in the church today who are guilty of being ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigals” than there are those guilty of being the younger wandering prodigal and perhaps that is why the church struggles to grow.
Here’s our problem: For so many of us, we’ve grown up knowing the Lord, and we have forgotten what it was like to be in need of God’s grace and love. Simply put, we have forgotten the joy of being welcomed into the family.
So to every Prodigal, God says, “Come on; join me in the celebration, because there is joy in the presence of angels over just one who repents!
And that brings us to the end of the story. How does the story end?
We don’t know. We’re left hanging.
Does the older brother stomp off, nurse his bitterness, never returning? Or does he uncross his arms and allow his father to put his arms around his shoulders as they walk into the house together to celebrate?
Jesus doesn’t tell us and I think Jesus left it open-ended on purpose.
It’s up to you.
What will you do?
How will you respond?
Which prodigal are you?
The Good News is that God invites … encourages … compels … both sons to come join the banquet … For in that moment of celebration, you will receive the gift of forgiveness and all of Heaven will rejoice.
Give thanks this day for the gift of forgiveness for each of us given to us through the life of Jesus Christ and revealed in the story of the Prodigal Sons.
I don’t know about you … But that’s a story we need.
And a story worth telling over and over …. and over again.