One of the best known and best loved of all the parables that Jesus told is the Parable of the Lost Son (also called the Prodigal Son). The parable is in Luke 15:11-21.
Jesus uses this very simple story about life in a country town to teach us more about God. God loves us just as a father loves his children.
There are three people in the parable:
• A father
• His older son
• His younger son
The parable begins when the younger son decides to ask his father for his inheritance. An inheritance is the money or property that a son would receive when his father died. This son did not want to wait for his father to die. He wanted to get his money so that he could leave home and live away from his family..
What might have been the reasons why the younger son wanted to leave?
• He was tired of being under the control of his father and family
• He wanted to do things his way
• He wanted to be free of his family’s rules and customs
• He was tired of not having the money to do the things he wanted to do
• Working for his father had become dull and boring
• He wanted a life where he was free to do whatever he wanted.
The younger son leaves home
So the younger son packed his things, took the money his father had given him and left home. Jesus says that the young man went to a “far country”. He wanted to get as far away as possible from this father. At last he was free to do the things he thought would make him happy. The story says that he spent his money on “wild living”. In English we say that he was “living as if there was no tomorrow”.
Of course, soon the money was gone. Also, there was no rain in that part of the country, and so all the crops failed. Food was hard to get, and jobs were hard to find. The only job this young man could get was feeding pigs. He was so hungry he even wanted to eat the pig’s food. No one wanted to help him, and so he sank lower and lower into poverty and despair.
It was at this time, when he desperately needed help, the story says that the younger son “came to his senses”. He realised that his life was completely wrong. He found that his old ideas of wanting freedom and being happy had taken him on the wrong path. Even the servants back at his father’s house lived better than he did. So he decided to return to his father. He wanted to tell his father how sorry he was. He knew that God and his father would be angry at what he had done. But he was determined to go home.
The younger son returns home
The younger son began the long journey home. Without money or food it must have been a hard journey. His father was always watching for his return, and when he saw his son in the distance he ran to meet him. The father put his arms around his son and kissed him. Luke 15:22-24 tells us about the party that the young man’s father arranged because he was so happy that his lost son had returned. You can imagine how happy the father was to see his son again. He had thought that he would never see his son again.
The older son was working out in the fields when the younger son returned. When the older son came in that evening, he heard the noise of the party. He asked one of the servants what was going on. He was told that his younger brother had returned, and that the party was for his younger brother who had been lost and now was found. The older brother was very angry, and would not go into the house to see his father or his brother.
The father came out and asked the older brother why he didn’t want to come inside to the party. The older son attacked his brother: “He does not deserve it. Look at all the terrible things he has done. He has wasted all your money”. The older brother said that he had worked for many years for his father without complaining, and he had never been given a party.
But the older brother could not see the big picture. His father explained that they had to celebrate because he was so happy at finding his son whom he thought was dead. He loved both his sons, and while both of them received his love, it was shown at different times and in different ways.
What this parable means for us
This lovely parable gives us courage to face the hard things we do in our lives. Just as the father in the story was waiting for his son to return, so God is our Father waiting for those people who have left Him or forgotten about Him. God is willing to love and forgive those who change their lives; who will love and obey him as their Heavenly Father.
Or, we may be like the older son, and we think that because we have worked for God for many years, He owes us something. But God’s love is a gift, not a payment. We should understand that God loves every man, woman and child and if we think like God, we will be caring and loving to everyone we meet.