Parable of the Prodigal Son

By Craig Condon
A teenager came to his pastor for advice. "I left home," said the boy, "and did something that will make my dad furious when he finds out. What should I do?" The minister thought for a moment and replied, "Go home and confess your sin to your father, and he will probably forgive you and treat you like the prodigal son." Sometime later, the boy reported to the minister, "Well, I told Dad what I did.""And did he kill the fatted calf for you?" asked the minister. "No", said the boy,"but he nearly killed the prodigal son."

It is important for us to see that in this parable Jesus is not interested in teaching us something about shepherding or keeping our money or even being good parents. What he is trying to do is give us a snapshot of God. He is seeking to answer the age old question, "What is God like?" The parable shows us the true nature of repentance and the Lord's readiness to welcome and bless those who return to him. It sets forth the riches of grace and encourages us to repent.

As I was doing my research for this sermon, I was amazed about how much this parable reminded me of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and the upcoming movie by the same name. I was particularly amazed by the words of the author, William Wilberforce, wrote in the first verse, namely:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wretch like me 
I once was lost, but now am found 
Was blind, but now I see

Like the prodigal son, Wilberforce was lost and blind, but he saw the error of his ways-and, like the prodigal son, he came home to the love and grace of our heavenly father.

The prodigal son's recovery from misery was a turning point in his conversion. When we turn from the darkness of sin to the light of eternal life, God opens our eyes and convinces us of our sin. This causes us to view ourselves and every object in a different light from what we did before. God was not in the prodigal son's life-he squandered God's grace. The prodigal son saw the light and decided to return in repentance to his father. This is the first step of true repentance.

The elder son in this parable was a metaphor of the Pharisees. His hatred of his brother is a metaphor of those who hate repentant sinners. This springs from pride, self-preference, and ignorance of a man's own heart. There is unspeakable happiness of all the children of God who keep close to God, because they are, and ever shall be, ever with him. God's receiving of a sinner who repents is no loss to those who have always served him. The father in the parable cut short his son's confession because he could not wait to forgive him. God is the same way. He can't wait to forgive those who repent and turn away from sin. The prodigal son was dead to sin, but was raised to new life. Now he is found and will be a comfort. He is a metaphor of a sinner who refuses to depend on, and be governed by, the Lord.

What does it mean to be lost? It means you have gone astray, you are wandering, you suffer from neglect, you are rebellion against God, and you are self-righteous. It also means that God is seeking you both in dangerous places and domestic places. Most important; however, is the fact that sinners should be saved.

Jesus mentions that sin has serious consequences and leads to dire circumstances. The prodigal son went through the seven degrees of the misery of sin:

1. Losing sight of God and becoming distant from him. 
2. God's love was replaced by carnal love and impure desires. 
3. Spiritual riches were squandered. 
4. Poverty, misery and want. 
5. Becoming a slave to the devil 
6. Hardship and rigor of slavery. 
7. Insatiable hunger and thirst.

Once he saw the light, he went through the eight degrees of conversion and salvation, namely:

1. Knowing and feeling misery, guilt and corruption. 
2. Resolve to forsake sin. 
3. Looking toward God as a compassionate and tenderhearted father. 
4. Confession of sin. 
5. Coming in spirit of obedience to the word of God. 
6. Putting resolutions into practice. 
7. God receives a sinner with a kiss of peace and love, blots out sin and restores him to the heavenly family. 
8. The sinner is clothed with holiness, united to God and has his faith shod with the shoes of preparation of the Gospel of peace.

Sin is a failure to keep a loving relationship with God, community, family and neighbour. The far country is a metaphor for looking for love in the wrong placed. It is only fun for a season. Eventually, it turns sour.

We are more like the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for associating with tax collectors and sinners. He accepted these people as people. He did NOT write them off. They mattered to him; they did not matter to the Pharisees. He was able to communicate what mattered to him-i.e. that God wanted to include them. The Pharisees were like the elder son in that they took God for granted. The elder son was so inflated by a sense of entitlement that he refused to eat with someone who did not earn his place at the table. The elder son is also a metaphor for the hypocrite of our time. Jesus uses the parable to teach about God's grace and acceptance of people who have been rejected by society. All of us fall short of attaining salvation. When we grow in our understanding of God's grace and understand more about how Christ has freed us from sin's condition, we respond with joy, praise and gratitude.

The joyful feast thrown by the father is a metaphor for the rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents. Real repentance teaches us to hate sin and to love righteousness, holiness and purity. Jesus invites us to "Be compassionate as your father is compassionate". In other words, be like God and show some compassion to others as he shows to us. We are to be like the prodigal son who ran away and not be like the elder son who stayed at home. The spent pieces of the prodigal son's dead life were gathered up in the life-giving arms of his father. This is a metaphor of both Christ's crucified body gathered up and raised to a new life AND the re-gathering of the scattered disciples who were gathered up under a new and Holy Communion.

The welcoming home, acceptance and inclusion of the parable runs counter to the broader perspective of society, especially concerning the inclusion of gays and lesbians. Jesus teaches us to see each other as God sees us and love each other as he loves us. We must do more than just minister to the outcasts of society-i.e. by donating to the local food bank. We must actually be a friend to them like Jesus is; however, we must live a pure and holy life. In other words, we must bring them to our level without stepping down to theirs. Christ calls us not to separate ourselves from those who seem farthest from God's reach but to get right into the centre and change lives by giving hope to those who need such hope.

The older brother is also a metaphor of a Judaism that condemned God's acceptance of outsiders, particularly the Gen tiles. God's love has no limits, is patient, is eager, is a joyful love, and focuses on the sinner, NOT on the sin. This may not seem fair. The real prodigal is the person who stays outside the loving God. Life with God is a party to be shared with others. The older son was lost and dead because he saw himself and right and righteous. He can't see that his self-righteousness means that he cut himself off from the source of life like his brother did. The older son could not see that without his father, he was also dead. We are all like the older son because we are dead without God. God is the continuing, abundant source of life. The pain of rejection is devastating, but we must remember these four things:

1. The feeling is only temporary. Talk it over with someone. 
2. The person rejecting you is the one with the problem. 
3. Remember how to laugh. 
4. God accepts and loves you.

The heart of the story is the older brother. He did not understand why the father welcomed the younger son back. Perhaps there was a tinge of jealousy over how the younger son was living. Do we think, like the older son did, that God measures sin? The answer is no, because we are also outside the kingdom until God forgives us and brings us into the kingdom.

This parable is the story of our lives. We have all had times when we have been far from God. God loves us enough to let us go and welcome us with open arms when we return home. We must not let God's blessings become commonplace. Like the story of the footprints in the sand, we must remember that God is with us always, even in life's deepest, darkest times. When we come to God, excuses won't do. The only way to return is humbly, with repentance. Our sin was paid for with a heavy price-Christ's death on the cross. We can see ourselves in the lost brother. Jesus tried to draw a picture for the Pharisees of themselves. He wanted them and us to see what the real spirit was in their hearts. The older brother was disturbed by both the return of his brother AND his father's reaction. This a metaphor of those who hate to see people saved-and there are probably lots of people whose hearts have never been broken in true repentance.

When we become Christians, we are changed like the prodigal son was. Our way of thinking also changes, much like an enemy can be changed into a friend and vice versa. This change encourages us to share and spread the Good News of salvation and God's grace.

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