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The Prodigal Son?

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

“All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2). Then, the text says, Jesus tells them the parable we find in Luke 15:11b-32 that is commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But is that story about the son? And, if so, which son, because there are two.

The 15th chapter of Luke is referred to as “the chapter of repentance.” If you read the verses prior to the Prodigal Son parable, Luke 15:4-10, you find some bad jokes about sheep and coins repenting. I’ve been baaaad and I promise I’ll change. But even those stories are not about the lost sheep or the lost coin. They don’t begin with “there was a sheep who had 99 other sheep under the shepherd,” or “there was a coin who, along with nine other coins, belonged to a woman.” There was a shepherd who had 100 sheep and there was a woman who had 10 coins.

The Prodigal Son story doesn’t start, “There was a man who had an older brother and a father.” No. It begins, “There was a man who had two sons.” The story is not about the younger son, but about the father.

The younger son gets the credit for this story because he wants his father dead so he can have his money. Then he goes off and spends the money. And how? He wastes his wealth through extravagant living. He has parties and buys expensive things. Then he comes to his senses. But, again, this is not a story about a son, but a father; a father who heard his son say, “I wish you were dead.” And instead of saying “get out,” he loved his son and divided his wealth and gave what would be the younger son’s to him. Then he let his son leave.

The younger son came to his senses and knew that if he returned home he could ask to be a hired hand on the family farm. So he returned with his planned speech for his father. However, the text says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.” The father was not sitting in his house waiting. He was out looking for his son, walking the edge of the property. I imagine him watching and waiting for his son to return.

And when the father saw the son coming, he ran to him. The father ran. Men of this man’s stature would not run; they had servants for that. But he humbled himself, ran, and kissed his son because he knew he would return, and he did.

This story reminds me of the film Finding Nemo, where Marlin goes out looking for his son who was taken. Marlin hangs out with sharks and sea turtles and faces the East Australian Current. He faces all kinds of danger because he knows his son is out there and needs him. That is what the father does for the son. He knows the son needs him, even when the son doesn’t know that.

Let’s not forget the older brother, who throws a royal hissy fit when he finds out the fatted calf was slaughtered for a party for the freeloader who is now going to weasel in on more inheritance. He doesn’t like that his father has accepted the return of the brother, and doesn’t get it: that the love of the father is all-encompassing and goes to lengths that none of us are prepared for.

The Loving Father is a better name for this story because the father here doesn’t care what anyone else thinks but is willing to love his children no matter what. And the father here will humble himself and disregard what the world says he should do as a man in his station of life. He sidesteps the rules of engagement and dishonors himself so many times.

Giving the younger son the money

Allowing the younger son to leave

Allowing the younger son to return

Running to the younger son

Giving the younger son a robe (This was one of the father’s best robes)

Giving the younger son sandals (This was a mark of being a member of the household and not a slave)

Giving the younger son the ring (This was a signet ring, one to seal documents for the family)

Leaving the party for the younger son to talk to the older son

God does all of these things for all of us. God is ready to run to you and love you where you are. Know that no matter what you have done or where you have gone, God is always right behind you, ready for you to be loved. God is running for all of us as we will see in less than two weeks when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The lengths God is willing to go to—to show us we are loved because of who we are, not what we do—are unlimited. God loves you as you are; no questions, no doubts. God is running for you.

This story also reminds me of this wonderful song, When God Ran.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holy days!


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