The story of the prodigal or lost son is a story that has hugely impacted my understanding of God's love for us. Interestingly, this story was recorded only in the book of Luke (Luke 15:11-32) and nowhere else in the other gospels.
It never ceases to amaze me the unconditional love that the father in that story has for his wayward son: the younger son who demands his inheritance before it is time for it to be distributed, and then squanders it all away in reckless and sinful living. When the son is finally brought so low that he is even envious of the food that the pigs are eating, he realizes that his father's servants are better fed than him. In deep shame and humility, he goes back to his father, intending to ask for forgiveness and to be taken on as a hired hand.
This is where it gets me. The father apparently has been looking out for his son day after day, hoping that his son will come back to him. From afar, he sees his son coming. Filled with love and compassion, he literally runs to his son. I mean, there is no thought of 'Hmm....let's see why he's back and if he's sorry for leaving the way he did.' Instead, the father falls on his son's neck and kisses him before the son says anything. He then asks his servants to bring the best robe to put on him, a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And finally, the fatted calf is to be killed for a feast to celebrate the return of the son who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and is now found.
How many of us have done the same thing as the prodigal son in doing things our way rather than His? Or when things don't go the way we want them to, we struggle with frustration and disappointment. Finally, after we have tried everything in our own strength, we come crawling back to our Heavenly Father to humbly seek His forgiveness and to ask Him to help us.
And what does God do? He sees us approaching His throne from afar, runs to us, embraces us and kisses us. No questions asked. Only grace, total forgiveness, love and restoration. When we see how willingly and completely He accepts us back unto Himself, remorse and gratitude pours forth from our hearts all at the same time. Our confession of having done wrong gushes out of our mouths not because we fear He will not forgive us until we do so, but because we are so overwhelmed by His love and willingness to forgive whether we do so or not.
Our Heavenly Father wipes our slates clean and keeps no record of our wrong-doings. He is ever willing to give us a new start with fresh provisions and the assurance of His absolute love and acceptance.
As for the older brother, he is in a way as lost as his younger brother. Not in the irresponsible and prodigal ways of his younger brother, but in his inability to welcome his brother back. When he discovers that his father is throwing a party to celebrate the return of his younger brother, he reacts in hurt and anger. Why? His younger brother had deserted them all earlier to pursue his own happiness while he, the older more responsible son, continued to serve their father at home. Now, his brother has returned and his father has killed the fatted calf for a feast to celebrate the brother's homecoming. For all that he's done for his father, he has never even been given a young goat to feast with his friends.
I can totally understand the jealousy and sense of injustice that the older brother feels. To me, his
feelings are completely natural and I would also struggle if I were in
his shoes. However, as justifiable as I think those feelings are, that
does not make them right. The story goes on to say that the
older brother tells his father how he feels (I'm so glad he did!) and
this is how his father answers him. Notice that there is no hint of disapproval of his reaction in his father's reply.
"Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found." (Luke 15:31,32)
This is what I believe the father is saying in my own words: Son, your loyalty and devotion to me has not gone unnoticed. I so deeply value you that all I have is yours. Your brother's return is something that needs to be celebrated because he has recognised the error of his ways and has come home to make amends. Our rejoicing doesn't diminish your value and standing in my eyes. So, come and celebrate your brother's return with me and be secure in my love for you. I have more than enough for both of you!
God has certainly more than enough for each of us, His children. We never need to fear any lack or be jealous of those who seem to be more favoured than us. Or those who have done more things to grieve the Father but yet restored without a word when they come back to Him. For those who have been diligently serving the Lord all their lives and sometimes wonder if their faithfulness has even been noticed, this parable tells us that God does notice. He notices that the faithful ones are always with him, and he promises that all He has is theirs.
The younger brother needs God's forgiveness, love and restoration in the things that he has done wrong. Likewise, the older brother needs the same thing from God in his self-righteousness and the wrong attitude(s) of his heart. As much as the older brother is judging his younger brother for the wrong things he has done, he, too, needs the grace and forgiveness that his father wants him to show towards his brother.
Each time when I come before God in repentance of something that I have
done wrong, whether it is in word or action or a wrong attitude of the
heart, I feel like the prodigal son being embraced by his father in
complete forgiveness, love and restoration. I know that His forgiveness of me is not dependent on my confession, for He had already forgiven all of my sins when Jesus died on the cross more than two thousand years ago. I confess because doing so makes me feel restored to right standing with God. It's more for my sake than His. It opens the doorway for me to become intimate with my Father again. It also keeps me humble and makes me value my relationship with Him instead of taking Him for granted.
In addition, this story reminds me that like everyone else, I am a sinner saved by grace. If I have any wrong attitude in my heart, I am no better than someone who has committed a crime that is worthy of imprisonment or the death sentence. As much as I dislike being judged by others, I, too, have judged them. I am so in need of the Father's love and grace to help me overcome the sins I struggle with. My challenge is to show others the same love and grace that the Father showers me with, especially those who have wounded me. Without His help, this can be an impossible feat at times.
Yet, I believe this is the way God designed it. He knows the Christian walk is an impossible one. This is why He makes the provision of His help available to us. It is His intent to make us dependent on Him. To acknowledge that we cannot do things in our own strength, only in His (Phil 4:13). And that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
There is so much to this parable than meets the eye. It is not just about one lost son; the other one is equally lost but in a different way. As I reflect on this story, I find that there is so much to ponder over and so much to learn from.
There are truly many treasures to be discovered in God's Word!