The story of the prodigal son, told by Jesus in the book of Luke, has always stolen my heart. There are three different men in the story - all coming from very different perspectives.
First, the prodigal son who asked for inheritance early, left his family and quickly squandered it away on prostitutes. He ends up living with the pigs fearful of facing his father until he swallows his pride to return home.
Next, we have the merciful father (representing our Heavenly Father) who welcomes his son back graciously, most likely aware the situation he lived in for several years was not honoring.
Last, there is the good son, the one who was there the whole time and never left. The one who follows the rules, works hard for his family and takes care of his people. The one who doesn’t understand the celebration of a son who did the exact opposite of the right thing. The son who thinks there should be a celebration for him because he has taken care of his family, provided excellent service to his father and been a loyal son always.
By design, each one of these characters speaks to different parts of our hearts. That’s why it’s a parable and part of the Living Word, because each time we read it we see ourselves in a different role. Bad son, merciful father or good son.
These twenty-one verses are powerful to me because they speak to the ugly parts of my human nature and also to the parts that are overcome with God’s grace.
I have almost always identified with the good son.. I don’t think that’s a good thing - he’s self righteous, arrogant and maybe a bit indignant. I don’t want to be those things - but God soaks this conviction into the deepest areas of my soul and covers them with His grace. If you identity with the good son - I want you to feel that too.
I talk about my fresh faith journey a lot around here, but let me give you a little recap. I have always been a rule follower and a people pleaser - not a great combo as an adult, if you ask me. As parents, we want our kids to be these things because it keeps them out of trouble, but as an adult I have battled with what it truly means to be a believer - walking in faith instead of walking out rules; not caring what anyone else thinks of me if my heart is after the Lord. I mean, most days I battle this like it’s my job, y’all.
I hate that I identify so closely with this character, but on this sweet morning, instead of seeing myself as the good son, the sweet and merciful father spoke to the depths of my soul. It was as if God reached through the pages of scripture and spoke directly to me, saying : I want you to love others like this father loved his son.
Even after all of this son did to him, scripture tells us that this father remained compassionate for him. His heart was soft toward him - as in NOT bitter, NOT angry, NOT indignant, NOT “I told you so”.
Let me set this up real quick : This precious son of his begged for all of his money early. Can you imagine your son asking you at 18 years old, “Dad - I graduated high school and even though you aren’t dead yet, could you go ahead and give me all that money that I would get if you were dead?” And the father DID! And the son LEFT!
Perhaps the father didn’t know that all the money was gone, but he did know that his child had abandoned his family. And even still, he felt compassion for him.
The bible says that “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.” (Luke 15:20) According to my footnotes, men at this time in history did NOT run. For anything or anyone. It was almost seen as a “childish act”. But here this father is seeing what he thinks may be his long - lost son and he drops whatever anyone thinks about him and goes to him. Meets him where he is.
It’s as if he knew he would eventually come back. As if he let it all go when his precious son left him - giving it to the Lord - and he then patiently waited for the Lord to return his son to him. (This is all me inferring this through scripture)
“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. And they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:22-23
This father gave his squandering, greedy and disloyal son his best. He didn’t just say “Yes, welcome home, let’s eat.” He essentially said, “Son!!!! We have been waiting for you to return! Let’s celebrate right now!”
There are two thoughts I have about this father’s response to the return of his child : One is that I want to welcome people into my home like this. Not just the ones who have done me harm, but ones that aren’t welcome everywhere else. I want to seek out people who don’t have a place and invite them into my home and give them our very best.
The second weighs heavy on my heart as I type these words out. I want to be known for celebrating what God has done. In my life, but also in the life of others. I have a precious friend who’s life phrase is “Party Don’t Stop!” and she’s right. The party shouldn’t stop.
What can you celebrate today? What is God doing - or what has He done - that you need to stop and celebrate? The greek word here literally means “to gladden”. What areas of our lives do we need to gladden this morning all because He has done something great?
Jesus said, “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” Matthew 10:27
Let us proclaim something from the housetops today.
Who do you need to show compassion to today? Is there someone in your life who has left you high and dry - emotionally or otherwise? Ask God to give you a compassionate and merciful heart for that person today.
Mothers - do you have a prodigal son? I cannot imagine the pain of watching a child walk away from all you have given and taught them. Today, I pray that you not only feel God’s peace enter into your hearts, but that you would continue to watch for his return just as this father did. I pray that you would meet them where they are, show compassion and mercy and that God would deal your family.
This story is good, just as our Heavenly Father is always good. He is gracious to forgive, He is compassionate and abounding in loving kindness. Let's find something to celebrate today!