11Jesus told them yet another story:
Once a man had two sons. 12The younger son said to his father, “Give me my share of the property.” So the father divided his property between his two sons.
13Not long after that, the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. 14He had spent everything, when a bad famine spread through that whole land. Soon he had nothing to eat.
15He went to work for a man in that country, and the man sent him out to take care of his pigs. 16He would have been glad to eat what the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing.
17Finally, he came to his senses and said, “My father's workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! 18I will go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. 19I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.’ ”
20The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him.
21The son said, “Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son.”
22But his father said to the servants, “Hurry and bring the best clothes and put them on him. Give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23Get the best calf and prepare it, so we can eat and celebrate. 24This son of mine was dead, but has now come back to life. He was lost and has now been found.” And they began to celebrate.
25The older son had been out in the field. But when he came near the house, he heard the music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants over and asked, “What's going on here?”
27The servant answered, “Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father ordered us to kill the best calf.” 28The older brother got so angry that he would not even go into the house.
His father came out and begged him to go in. 29But he said to his father, “For years I have worked for you like a slave and have always obeyed you. But you have never even given me a little goat, so that I could give a dinner for my friends. 30This other son of yours wasted your money on prostitutes. And now that he has come home, you ordered the best calf to be killed for a feast.”
31His father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we should be glad and celebrate! Your brother was dead, but he is now alive. He was lost and has now been found.”
As Luke says at the beginning (v 11), this story is about two sons. The heading in the CEV gets this right. So often it is referred to as the parable of the prodigal (i.e. wasteful) son, and the second half is ignored. Remember, Jesus is speaking to a mixed audience, tax collectors and sinners, on the one hand, and the religious elite on the other. So we’ll look at both brothers.
Everything about the younger son is despicable. What’s he thinking of, squandering his inheritance in this way? Why does he travel so far into Gentile territory? Couldn’t he see where he would end up if he went on living like this? Nope, he just didn’t think.
Then he hits bottom, comes to his senses, and decides to go home. But look at his assumptions – about his father and about himself. He thinks his father may take him back, just maybe, as a servant. He sees himself as not good enough.
And look what happens.
Then there’s the other brother, angry. How come his despicable kid brother gets treated like this?
Actually, both brothers make the same mistake. The younger son hopes that his father might hire him back as a slave, the older son complains that he has been slaving away.
Neither of them understands the father’s love. Unconditional, it has nothing to do with their behaviour. It is steadfast – nothing can break it. It doesn’t depend on anything they’ve done or are doing. They are his children. That is enough.
Father God, You are my father. I am your child. Forgive me if I sometimes think of you as a slave-driver and forget that I’m a member of your family. I come to you now as your child, overwhelmed by how much you love me. In joy, Amen.