The Prodigal Son: 7 Things You Might Have Missed
The Prodigal Son. Ever heard of him? He’s pretty popular these days! And he has an exciting story, overflowing with an amazing expression of God’s grace. And with this “hyper-grace” adventure I’ve been on, I’ve noticed a lot of awesome things in this story that I hadn’t before. Here are 7 things you might have missed.
1. The father was never angry at the Prodigal Son.
The father was never angry at the son. Not even when the son took his inheritance and squandered it on all those porno mags and Marilyn Manson albums (is that still the pinnacle of badness in Christianiy?). There’s no sign that the father was ever vindictive, and he never said, “That dirty, rotten sinner son! I need to judge him! I need to banish him from the family!”
If we’re to continue interpreting this story as a parable of God and “sinners,” then it’s important to remember that the father never held a vendetta against the rebellious son.
2. He started as a son, ended as a son, and was a son everywhere in between.
The son was a son from the start. He wasn’t a stranger and then a son. He woke up as a son, took all of his inheritance as a son, blew all of his inheritance as a son, ate with the pigs as a son, and finally returned to his father, welcomed home as a son! In fact, it was only the prodigal son who declared himself unworthy to be called a son–it never crossed the father’s mind!
3. He was never banished from the father by the father; he left on his own.
This story doesn’t show a prodigal son who was banished from the house by an angry father because of his bad behavior. It shows a son who willingly left and banished himself. And when the wages of his sin finally came in the mail, he realized that life outside of his father’s household wasn’t so appealing afterall. What was the father doing the whole time? Waiting.
4. The Prodigal Son returned by choice, not by force or fear.
Did you notice that it wasn’t threats of the father’s wrath and judgment that got the son to repent (change his mind)? He came to his senses on his own when he remembered that his father was kind, his house was warm, and he had lots of food! “Even if I were a servant I would be better off than this!” And yet, when he returned home, he wasn’t demoted to a servant for his naughty behavior, he picked up right where he left off, a son. Even though he expected to be shamed and rejected, declaring, “I’m unworthy to be called your son!” that didn’t stop the father from embracing him as exactly that.
5. The son with a “work-really-hard-to-impress-my-father mentality,” was still a son, too!
Of course, the father had another son. This son was filled with jealousy and anger when his brother returned. He even refused to attend the party (which is okay, because more cheesecake for me!). Still, the father came out and begged him to join them, but the son replied, “I’ve slaved away for you for years, doing everything you said, and what have you given me? Yet, he spent all your money on prostitutes, and he gets a feast!”
This son was focused on himself and what he had done for the father. Perhaps he was even trying to win the father’s love through his labor, and now felt that all his hard work went unnoticed. Understandably then, he was hurt and frustrated when his brother, who had done nothing but abuse what his father had given him, returned and received a celebration.
Yet what was the father’s response to this frustrated son? “You jealous brat! Leave my house at once!” No! But rather, “You’re always with me. Everything I have is already yours. But your brother was dead, and now he is alive! He was gone, but now he has returned!”
A gentle reassurance of his part in the family, and a reminder of why it was a good time to celebrate!
6. The angry son only wanted the approval of the father.
When it comes right down to it, what was the pharasaic son really after? He only wanted his father to approve of him and acknowledge the work he did. Unfortunately for him he thought it was the work that would win his father’s approval, and couldn’t see that he had it the whole time. “Everything I have is yours.” How many times had the father tried to let his son know, “You’re already loved because you’re my son!” but the son couldn’t hear it over the sound of his huffing and heaving.
7. The father was never angry with the second son.
This second son, who acted just like many of the pharisees we have so despised, didn’t find an angry and vindictive father any more than the sinful son did. They both found the same father, full of love and grace for his children. They both found the same response when they challenged his love for them by disobedience and obsession with obedience respectively.
The prodigal son story goes deeper than just being about God’s love for “sinners.” It’s about God’s love for all. Even those stubborn, work-obsessed pharisees who try to win the father’s love through their own efforts (and have yet to discover that they’ve had it all along). Paul’s life reinforces this idea.
The Father’s love isn’t partial to “sinners,” it’s available for all. And even though it’s not different in measure for each individual, it may be expressed differently to each. For some he might throw a party, for others he might send an invitation. But rest assured, there is a party and everyone is welcomed! The “sinner” is welcomed home to a feast, and the self-righteous welcomed in for a rest.
As Paul Ellis wrote in his book, The Gospel in Ten Words, “The good news declares that God is happy, he is for you, and he wants to share his life with you forever.”
It’s really good news!
Are there any other treasures I might have missed in this story? Leave a comment below and let me know!