In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son if you prefer), which illustrate God’s grace and the lengths He will go to save lost souls. Jesus’ audience represented a spiritual dichotomy of sinners and tax collectors with Pharisees and scribes. Jesus spoke these three parables as a response to the criticism leveled by the Pharisees and scribes of how Jesus sat in the company of sinners. We will look more specifically at the story of the Prodigal Son.
The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar one to Christians and the phrase “prodigal son” is used as a euphemism to describe someone who has wandered away and returned. There are two brothers and the youngest brother goes to his father and demands his share of his inheritance, while his father was alive. Typically, an inheritance can only be received once someone has died. The father, knowing the social meaning of his son’s request, and divided his estate among both brothers.
In a tale similar to today’s news reports of celebrities, actors, and athletes squandering king’s fortunes and going bankrupt, the Prodigal Son partied like a “rock star” and blew all of his money. It was all gone. The Prodigal was busted, broke, and bankrupt. A famine soon after came upon the land and the Prodigal was hungry and desperate. The Prodigal went from living “high on the hog” so to speak, to literally the hog pen as he had to get a job feeding swine. The Prodigal comes to his senses and decides to go back home to his father, not as a son, but as a servant.
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20-21, NKJV).
The story then pivots on the contrasting reactions of the father and oldest brother.
“But the father said to his servants, ‘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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:22-24, NKJV).
The older brother was working in the field and heard the party taking place. The father explained that they are having a party for his brother who has returned home. The older brother refused to go to the party and justified his actions to his father:
“So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I could make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’” (Luke 15:29-30, NKJV, emphasis mine).
The older brother’s statements consist of “I have done this, I have done that.” “Where’s my party?” I stayed here and did what was expected of me.” The older brother refuses to acknowledge his brother, simply calling him “this son of yours.” It is certainly easy to read self-righteousness into the older brother’s statements, but does he on some level have a point?
Everybody has worth and wants to be appreciated. Nursing homes are full of sick and elderly people who simply want someone to spend a few minutes with them. Parents want to know that their children appreciate their sacrifices for them to have a better life. Dedicated and faithful employees want to know that their work is appreciated and serves a greater purpose than getting a paycheck. This is not about vanity or seeking the approval of others, but we want to know we are on the right track and we are making an impact in life. If we do not perceive that we are appreciated, then we get discouraged, which leads to self-righteous comparison when we see “someone less qualified or deserving” get the blessing we seek.
The older brother could have gone off on his own adventures, but he chose to stay home. The older brother was wise and responsible with his money and continued to work. However, when we grow discontent with our situations in life, we often overlook the tremendous blessings we do have. At the end of the story, the father gives the oldest son a different perspective on the situation:
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NKJV).
The older brother has always been in the presence of the father and he also received his share of the inheritance, while the younger brother wandered from the father. Though the older brother did not see a physical reward for his service to his father, his father did notice his faithfulness. The older brother did not perceive that he had his father’s approval. The same principle applies for those of us who have been saved for many years in that we often lose the meaning of having our Father’s presence in our lives at the expense of what God’s presence means for others.
We should serve God and others with a servant’s heart, but we must not make the mistake of the older brother and serve with a “religious works” mindset. If we see serving God as a means to an end, we will lose the perspective that we are sons and daughters of God and not simply servants. Let us not try to value ourselves by any fleeting external measures such as money, recognition, titles, or family status. Instead, let us see ourselves first as children of God and draw our worth from there. God bless you all.