“A Father and His Two Sons” – Luke 15:11-32
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’ ”
When I first read the parable of the Prodigal Son, as a new believer, I found myself relating to the prodigal and even resenting the figure of the self-righteous brother. Years later, as I found myself a bit more self-righteous in my faith, I could relate to the second brother – resenting the father for not giving me the credit I felt I was due. Now, that I am a father, the parable seems much more clear.
Although Jesus told this parable so that we can find ourselves in the shoes of the two sons, his goal is more about our response to the father – the person this parable is actually about.
You might be able to summarize this parable by saying, “A son who wants to take, a son who wants to earn, and a father who wants to give.” The first son is dissatisfied with what he has taken, the life he chose apart from the father. The second son is resentful because he can’t earn more, disregarding what he has with the father. As the story shows, the father has always given both sons everything they need and more. They lack no possessions, they lack no position, and they lack no profession of his love. As the story implies, they focus on themselves – while the father is focused on them.
Now that I’m a dad, I can see a little more of the story. Is there anything I wouldn’t do for my daughter? Is there anything she could do to earn more of my love? Is there anything she could do to lose it? Absolutely not. She will always have all that I can give her. She will always have a place at the table. And I will always welcome her, and call her back when she leaves. How much more is this true of a perfect Father? Of a Father that doesn’t run out of patience?
I can see now that I am like both sons. When I am wayward, Jesus always welcomes me back with arms wide open. Not only does he accept me back, he celebrates and is filled with joy. When I am self-righteous, he asks me to see through his eyes and his joy. Now matter what, he is calling me to communion. He is calling me back to unity, to friendship, to intimacy with the Father (my God) who lifts me up and seats me at His table with honor that I cannot earn or lose. If I cannot earn it and I cannot lose it – if His love for me is so unchanging, then maybe the moral of the story of the Father and His two sons is simple. No matter where you are, who you are, or what you think you’ve done – come home. Come home, stay home, and welcome your brother home as well.