You’ve heard a million sermons on the parable of the Prodigal Son, but when the passage was read in church this morning, I heard three things that I hadn’t heard before:
1. When the younger son was away in a foreign land, he was working – he had a job – but the job was not providing enough for him to get by. What did he say to himself? “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”
It may be because there was a famine, but nonetheless, the point stands: the father in the story made sure those working to build and maintain his wealth had all they needed and more.
So will we join with the Father in the story, represented by God, and make sure that everyone who works has food enough and to spare? Or will we condemn those who, like the younger son, work in a foreign land as “lazy,” their laziness proved not by their unwillingness to work, but by their poverty?!”
2. The younger son made bad decisions, it is clear. But what is the reaction of his father? Does he shrug his shoulders and say that the boy should’ve made better decisions, and if he had, he wouldn’t be in this mess? Does he provide him with a budget plan and suggest he attend Financial Peace University, and maybe then he’ll be worthy of not starving?
This is not what we find at all! The father immediately brings his son back into attire worthy of a son, and puts food in his belly, and throws a celebration.
So will we join the older brother in insisting that because people may have made bad decisions they are unworthy of a steak dinner or happiness? Or will we join the father in his ridiculous party for an irresponsible person who wasted his money on all sorts of things money shouldn’t be wasted on?
3. How fortunate he was to have a wealthy father. Many people who’ve made irresponsible decisions don’t get have a wealthy father to run home to when they make bad decisions or take a job that won’t support them.
But here’s the twist: The father in the story represents God. (If you think this is going to go Joel Osteen, I have another twist coming for you). The father represents God, whom Ephesians 4:6 declares to be the father of all.
So when we talk about “entitlements,” calling poor people “lazy,” let us remember at least two things: (1) the words of Ephesians, naming God the father of all, and (2) that the son in the story did nothing to earn the celebration. He just came home and there it was.
The older brother was, of course, furious, as he watched his dad, who still owned everything, take away some of the things he’d worked so hard for and give them to his brother who was starving.
The older brother, like many Christians, was confused about what made this son worthy of a celebration and of having more than enough. It was not his labor (he could’ve asked for the party at any time and had it). It was who his father was: the one who owned it all.