The Parable of the Prodigal Son
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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 when 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.’”
There was a time in my life when I definitely identified with the Prodigal Son. I, too, decided that I wanted to live my own life, rejecting my parents and their love for me. I thought that I knew best and that I would find happiness by pursuing my own path and by focusing on self-discovery, just like the prodigal. Maybe some of you recognise yourselves in him too.
However lately, it’s the figure of the elder brother that speaks to me. In his own way, he also decided to live a life outside of his father’s love. Perhaps not in a dramatic way. After all, on the surface, he was living as a dutiful, obedient son, who worked hard and remained by his father’s side. However, we see in his reaction at the father’s welcome to his younger brother that he is actually wrapped in self-righteousness. He finds his father’s actions unfair. Surely if someone deserved a feast with a fattened calf (an expensive food, set aside for a special occasion), it was him! After all he’d done…!
Self-righteousness is an ugly thing. I am not too proud to admit that I, too, can be guilty of it, like the elder brother. I am trying to be full of love, but the reality is that I can be judgmental towards others and towards myself. When I don’t get what I want from God, I can find myself telling Him that surely, I deserve the answer I expect because of “how good a Christian I’ve been”.
But this is not how it works in the Kingdom of God. Actions, good behaviour and the “ticking of all the boxes” don’t matter much in the economy of Grace. We live under our heavenly Father’s grace and are called to share this grace to others. We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15).
Prayer: Father, thank you for your unconditional love and for your grace that has no measure. Thank you for the warm welcome that you always have for us. Help us to show the same grace and love to those around us. Help us to have the wisdom to realise when we act as elder brothers. Forgive us for the times we are judgemental towards others.
Action: Who do I identify more to in this story? Take some time to think about this. If like me, you see some of the elder brother in you, there is this song I have found helpful: Jess Ray: Grace & Mercy [Official Video] – YouTube
This Thought was written by Joanna Stevenson