Moving Away from the Prodigal
By Benjamin H. Liles
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’
So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. Luke 15:17-22, New American Standard
Tonight I was having a hard time figuring out what to write about. And there are times that happens. It's like you've been at the river for a while and not noticing that slowly, over time the river has run dry. That's when it's best to move to another place to be renewed, restored, and rejuvenated. So, as I was mulling over to write on i felt an impression on my heart that's how the Prodigal son felt.
Take the time with me to see this scene: a young man, maybe in his early to mid twenties, trying to find his way in life has landed head first in the muck. For a time he had enough money to live on, possibly have a business, and the ability to have a life if he wanted it. But by the time we come across this young man he's in that muck, slopping with the pigs. We read, "He went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him" (Luke 15:15-16).
Can you imagine how that feels? Being in such a place where you are so hungry that no one wants to help you because you stink just like a pig? I have been there. Literally. I was in my late teens. It was before i was found to have a mental disability. My dad and I got into a huge argument over a girl I was talking to on the phone and I simply gathered the little belongings I could take with me by foot and I walked out.
It may have taken about six months to realize I had it far better living in my father's house, by his and my mom's rules, than going from living in an apartment, unable to support myself to living on the streets and seeing I truly had nothing. I wonder now, when I look back, "Doesn't the parable of the Prodigal Son mirror my life?"
I get what Jesus is getting at in His parable when He gives it to the religious elite in Jerusalem. They represent the older son who had always been with the father. The older child, in the parable, are those who claim they are doing the will of their father. It is why the father told him, "Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:31-32).
In another part of the gospel record Jesus says it this way: "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him" (Matthew 21:31-32).
Within the confines of these two texts we see something remarkable. Jesus is telling the religious leaders they refused to listen to John or grow in righteousness: "For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him." These leaders are the son, who in Luke 15 complain by saying, "Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him" (Luke 15:29-30).
But the other son? The Prodigal? He not only came to his senses, but was willing to become a servant to his father. This is the son in Matthew 21 who didn't just believe the gospel John the Baptist proclaimed: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). The tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus refers to in Matthew 21 are those who heard John's message and came to be baptized in the Jordan river. They were able to fully listen to the voice of Jesus and obey His voice. We read: "Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6).
In moving away from being the prodigal child of God, they come in droves, not simply hungering and thirsting for His righteousness, but they "feel remorse afterward so as to believe him" (Matthew 21:32b). This is the child of the father who the father decks out, restoring him to his rightful place; "Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:22-24).
If the father of the prodigal son delights in his son returning to him, to be restored, to give a lavish feast to, to extend his love and devotion to, then those who come ought to be welcomed in by his family. Those of us who are already within God's family ought to be clapping their hands for those who have come into the fold. We need to show our love and support for those who realize the pig-pen of life they were in was of no use to them. We need to care for them, clothe them in righteousness. As scripture declares: "Carry one another's burdens and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2, Berean Study).
It means we should pay attention to those who come in to our Churches, help them with their daily cares, often giving them a willing ear, not just advice. We are to fulfill God's mandate of the highest calling we all have and share in Him: "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8, New American Standard). It is in this way we help bring in those who desire to be back in the Father's house. Let us give them a feast they can celebrate with us over. After all were we not all in the place of them before we came into His home?
Father, help me to be more loving and excited over those who are lost who come to You. Help me to show Your love to them so that they feel and see Your love. I want those who are returning to You to see they are loved and welcomed within the family Jesus set up called the Church. I want Your love to be made more manifest in and through my life so others can truly tell I hinge my life upon You and in Your command to love others. You are first in my life, and the second is for me to love others as You declare through Your Son, Jesus. I ask and pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.