The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most recognized Biblical narratives and has been used for centuries to encourage wayward children to return to their Father.
It’s easy to glaze over and take a “Yeah, I’ve heard that” attitude until you become the Prodigal. When you truly realize your insufficiency and see your separation from the blessing of Home, when you can taste the pig slop on your lips and feel the humiliation of brokenness, then the story comes to life.
I’ve written about this parable a lot and read many books seeking to bring various elements to life, but this week, I really felt what it was like to be the Prodigal Son. There’s a huge difference in knowing something and feeling something.
When you know something, you impose it on other people—pointing out their prodigal nature. When you feel something, you take it in to the core of who you are and you become transformed by it.
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The Parable of the Prodigal Son
In his book Prodigal God, Timothy Keller goes into great detail about The Parable of the Prodigal Son as it relates to our own spiritual struggle, both as prodigals and elder brothers.
For many years, American Christianity has focused on the prodigal as the central character of this story, calling us to repent and turn from reckless living. I’m afraid that if we stop there, we’ve missed the point.
Essentially, Keller boils it down to this, “You can rebel against God and be alienated from Him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently.”
I feel like what Jesus was really trying to convey is that whether we have the heart of the prodigal son or whether we have the heart of either brother, we miss the love of the father.
I feel like what Jesus was trying to say is that both brothers were consumed by entitlement. While the younger brother believes he is entitled to his own way, the elder brother believes he is entitled based on his obedience. Oh how I feel this wrestling within my own soul!
Entitlement is a sort-of spiritual cancer. And as the story shows us, entitlement prevents us from entering the presence of the father.
But instead of focusing on the brothers, what if we made every effort to become like the father?
Unlike the brothers, the father teaches us to refuse anger because it will deny our capacity for love. The father teaches us not to be offended because it will chain us to our own emotions. The father teaches us that supreme and unconditional love demands nothing other than the acceptance of its unconditional nature.
The father must become our example.
“It was only gradually and often quite painfully that I came to realize that my spiritual journey would never be complete as long as the Father remained an outsider…Becoming like the heavenly Father is not just one important aspect of Jesus’s teaching, it is the very heart of his message.” —Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
Like Nouwen, I am slowly learning that the Father’s love is the only thing powerful enough to refuse the strongholds of entitlement and expectation in my life. It is the only path to true freedom.
Even as I write this, I find myself saying, “Give it to me now God,” as my own agenda trumps the will of my Father. By the same token, I stand on one sideline pointing out the wrongs of the other party.
But when I really get to the heart of the Christian faith, I’m reminded that the path to becoming the Father is to emulate the Son. The Son who had the heart of the Father. The Son whose Passion led Him to the cross. The Son who went to be with the Father.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed:
“Just as, Father, you are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me…that they may be one even as we are one.” —John 17:21-22
If any of us have a longing to restore that which is broken in our country, we have to become like the Father.
The very promise of the gospel is that through the Son, we can become one with the Father. When we abandon the prodigal nature of entitlement and return to the open, loving arms of a Father, we find life.
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