One of the most famous parables taught by Jesus is the one we call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”
The fifteenth chapter of Luke begins by setting the stage. “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:1–2, CSB). While the publicans and sinners were hungry to hear the lessons taught by the itinerate, miracle-working rabbi, the lawyers and legalists were busy finding fault.
Jesus told a story about a wretchedly selfish and sinful son who demanded that his daddy divide the estate. It’s certainly worth noting that daddy was very much alive. Generally, you don’t read the will until after death. Nonetheless, the father yielded, and the son took his inheritance and travelled to a far country where he wasted it stupidly.
Broken, hungry, humiliated, and enslaved to an evil master, while doing the work of the lowest slave, he came to his senses and decided to return home to his father. The tax collectors and sinners are symbolized by the younger son. Spiritually they were broke, hungry, humiliated, enslaved to an evil master. They were spell-bound by Jesus’ teachings and longed to enjoy fellowship with a forgiving and saving God.
The boy’s father obviously represents the Heavenly Father. He was waiting and watching for the prodigal son to return. “While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, CSB). That’s a beautiful picture of our God. He loves us and longs for us to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). He longs to give us the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). He gladly adopts us as His own and invites us to address Him as “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
The story doesn’t end with the happy home-coming celebration, rather it takes a sad turn when we meet the disgruntled and self-righteous older brother. “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him’ ” (Luke 15:25-30, CSB).
The super-religious self-righteous scribes and Pharisees weren’t dumb. They could read between the lines. They knew that Jesus was talking about them. Sadly, Jesus might also be talking about me. It’s easy to become jaded, to allow a holier-than-thou attitude to creep into our hearts. Today, we need to hear what the father said to the older son. “Son ... you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31-32, CSB).