The Return of the Prodigal Son: Themes of Personal Impact, Challenges Posed to Faith and How the Contemporary Church
The parable centers on the response of the father rather than the actions of the sons. When the youngest son demands his inheritance, the father actively responds. He divides the property between the brothers. According to Old Testament law, the younger son would receive one third of the property. The son then leaves his father, only to squander his wealth and succumb to the perils of natural disaster. He reaches his breaking point when he is starving and has to take work feeding pigs, an animal Jewish people regarded as unclean under dietary laws.
He thought of his father’s servants who were at least fed well and had shelter at night. The young son had reached the end of his rope and came back home. He was accepted with open arms by his father. The older son was outraged; he was angry that his father had allowed his brother to return and even more disturbing was the gift of a rob, a ring, and a pair of sandals and a huge feast, in his honor, with the choicest of the fatted calves. When the young son came to his father to ask for his inheritance, in the Jewish culture of that day, it was like he was saying, “I wish you were dead!” This was highly unconventional and was insulting of the father. This is what the Jewish leaders understood and in their minds, they would not have received the young son back into the family. In fact he would have been disinherited or even stoned as was done in the ancient Jewish culture in the Old Testament. He would have been disowned and he would not have been allowed to return at part of the father’s family. The youngest son represents all of those who have been called by God and for whatever reason; they have placed one foot in the world and one foot in the church. When God chastises those Who He has redeemed, as any loving father would, He brings them to their knees and they see their need for repentance and return to God and ask for His forgiveness. This can not be a picture of the lost because they would never have been a child of the father in the first place. Unbelievers are children of the devil as Jesus said in John 8:42-44, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. “To the Father’s own, does He give “the right to become children of God”.
The most interesting words for the workplace are “to one another.” The assumption is that people sin against each other, not just against God, and at work that is certainly the case. We face daily pressure to produce and perform, and we have limited time to act, so we often act without listening, marginalize those who disagree, compete unfairly, hog resources, leave a mess for the next person to clean up, and take out our frustrations on co-workers. We wound and get wounded. The only way to be healed is to confess our sins to one another. If someone just shot down a co-worker’s promotion by inaccurately criticizing that person’s performance, the wrongdoer needs to confess it to the one wronged at work, not just to God in private prayer time. The wrongdoer may have to confess it to the rest of the department too, if he or she is really going to heal the damage.
Moreover, when we do return, He will welcome us into his arms and place us back at the table where we belong.
John 13–14 (NRSV)
James 5:16 (NRSV)
Peter 1:1 (NRSV)