I am nearing the end of a sermon series on the parables of Jesus. After spending ten weeks preaching them, my favorite has to be the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This story does not let any of us off the hook, and most importantly, it is one of the best illustrations of our heavenly father’s unconditional love.
The plot is straightforward. A father had two sons. The younger son requested his inheritance before his father’s death. He leaves home for a distant country, where he spends himself into destitution. He “comes to himself” and heads back home to the father’s house. When the father sees him at a distance, he runs to embrace the son that was “lost but now is found.” The father then gives him a ring, nice robe, and a party. However, not everyone wanted to celebrate the younger son’s return. The older brother comes in from working in the fields, wondering what all the fuss is about. Upon learning that his younger brother has returned, he gets furious—furious that all of this partying is for someone who had wasted his father’s inheritance. The father leaves the party to speak to the older brother where the older brother exclaims: “I have been working like a slave for you… and you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” And, in perhaps one of the best lines in the parable, the father replies: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Even though the parable is often dubbed “the prodigal son,” I find this title slightly misleading because it is about a “certain man who had two sons.” I believe the two sons represent both sides of the same coin: both brothers have a warped understanding of the grace of the father. The younger brother wants grace without obligation. By requesting his inheritance early, he also asks to be relieved from his duty to take care of his father in old age. The older brother embraces the obligation, but he wants no grace for those who fail to live up to the obligations he fulfills. The younger brother lives a life of cheap grace, while the older brother lives a life of works righteousness Yet, the good news of this parable is that the father still runs out to embrace both brothers in their distorted understanding of who the father really is. God embraces us, too. In doing so, God shows us what true grace is all about.
(Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)