The prodigal son is one of the most referenced stories in the Bible. It has been turned into songs, art, and countless sermons. And no wonder, as the lessons we can learn about ourselves, God, our relationships with one another, are countless as well. I have read the story and heard teachings about it countless times and come away nearly each time with some new understanding of the insights the story gives. This isn’t even the first blog I’ve written on it.
I’m not going to start by telling you why what I’m writing is correct and what you’ve heard before isn’t. That’s the great thing about parables, they can mean more than one thing! I’m just going to talk about the two brothers, their differences, and each of their relationships with their father.
We’ll start with the prodigal son since the story is named after him. He is a bit of a scoundrel. He can’t wait for Dad to die to get his inheritance, he demands it now. The story infers Dad was a wealthy man, so it was quite an inheritance. Dad, to everyone’s surprise I’m sure, gives it to him. He takes it and goes on an extended bender, burning through the fortune on women, booze, and wild living. Finally his life comes crashing down on him. Living in extreme poverty he goes back begging his dad for a job. Every dad’s dream for their son.
Then we have the prodigy son. He does his dad proud. He works hard, continues to build the family wealth, and is faithful. He is at Church on Sunday, a deacon and Sunday School teacher. He pays his tithes and donates to other charities besides. He coaches a little league team and volunteers at the local soup kitchen.
Then we see the dad. He is unlike any dad I’ve encountered. Maybe unlike any person I’ve encountered. His rules are different. He looks at his two sons and he sees only his two sons that he loves deeply. None of the good deeds of the prodigy cause the father to view him any differently. At the same time, none of the wicked deeds of the prodigal change how the father views him either. He doesn’t keep any kind of score card, no comparison, no measuring stick. Each one is good enough and fully beloved just because they are his sons.
This is our God. Paul writes that even though his resume is quite impressive he considers it a pile of shit. That is literally how it translates. God isn’t impressed with our efforts or disappointed with our failures. He simply loves and accepts us.
This is one of the challenges Christianity brings us. A worldview that doesn’t measure us against each other, but simply says, you are God’s, you are good, you are loved. This doesn’t allow room for us to look down our noses at “them” or be proud of our own values. It is easy to place my value in my intellect, my progressive values, my progressive views on faith, but none of these add any value with God. A liberal is no more valuable than a conservative or vice versa. A Methodist is no more valuable than a Charismatic or a Southern Baptist. None of these things affect how we measure up to God because He isn’t measuring.
So take the lesson both of the sons in the story had to learn the hard way. You are God’s. You are good. You are loved.