What if the rich young ruler was the prodigal son?
That’s an odd question, especially for those who are familiar with the two Biblical narratives. Believe me, it was odd to me when I felt God press it on my heart during worship this past Sunday. Those steeped in theology are quick to point out that one was a parable while one was a real account. But if you’re willing to follow along with me, I think you’ll find a fresh perspective that will enhance your view of God.
This Sunday, during worship, God impressed this question on my heart as these lyrics echoed from the lips of those around me:
“We are the sons, we are the daughters of God.
No matter where we go we’re close to the Father’s heart.
And though we stumble He will not let us fall.
We are the Lord’s and He will never forsake His own.
We are the sons, we are the daughters of God.”
—Brett Stanfill, North Point
If we’re honest, I think so many of us fail to see ourselves as sons and daughters of God. It’s too intangible for us to grasp and too distant for us to truly understand. And besides, the world does a great job of keeping us busy so we feel incapable of slowing down long enough to understand what that really means.
As I thought further on this, an image implanted itself in my mind of two different characters found in the book of Luke: the Rich Young Ruler and the Prodigal Son. (15:11-24 and 18:18-25)
I had never before considered the perspective that they could possibly be the same person. But as God pressed it on my heart, the proposition floored me. I searched my mind for refuting evidence, but could find none other than the fact that Jesus told one as a parable and one was taught as a real account. So I let it rest a little deeper. It led me down a rabbit trail, asking God for insight.
Since He’d prompted the question, I figured I’d wait for His reply. In doing so, He asked me to write the stories together—to take these two separate narratives and weave them into one.
The Rich Young Prodigal
There was a young man who had spent many years doing what was right, obeying the law and his father. Yet in a search of his purpose, the son approached his wealthy father and asked for his share of the estate. The father, having a deep love for his son, granted his request. The son quickly gathered his inheritance and embarked for the far country, searching for life on his own.
Upon arriving in the far country, he encountered an unusual Rabbi named, Jesus. Word had traveled widely about this man who many claimed to be the Son of God. With a desire to know more about life and his purpose, the young man approached this good teacher with the best intentions. As he looked at Jesus and he felt something burning inside of him, as if this moment was part of his destiny. He made his way through the great crowd and found himself face-to-face with the Rabbi. Feeling his presence and his peace, the young man nervously struggled for words as he bowed.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He asked.
“Why do you call me good,” said Jesus, “No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments, keep them.”
“I have done that since I was a young boy,” the young man replied.
When Jesus heard him, he saw his heart, loved him, and said, “One thing you lack. Go sell your possession and give to the poor. Then, come and follow me.”
Jesus’s words pierced the young man’s heart. This was the very thing the young man felt incapable of doing. This was his inheritance, his everything. How could he possibly sell it all and give it to the poor?
Deeply saddened, he declined Jesus’s request and left. For days he wrestled with Jesus’s words, but resolved that this couldn’t possibly be right. Certainly his purpose wasn’t found in surrendering to a Jewish Rabbi. Angry and determined, he decided to abandon his obedient, ambitious lifestyle for a free, reckless one.
The young man enjoyed food and drink and women, consuming all that life had to offer. He leveraged his finances for business opportunities and lived at a feverish pace. For a while, it seemed that he has found the life he longed for. But slowly, beneath the facade of his well-being, the young man’s wealth began to fade. His appetite had consumed his foundation and after a drought ruined his crops, he found himself destitute.
Everything was gone—all of the security and all of the safety of his inheritance had been depleted. His quest for eternal life had found nothing but death. Stricken with guilt and burdened with hunger, he stared at pigs feeding in a field. He’d give anything just to eat alongside them.
At the end of his rope, facing a painful death of starvation, he decided to return to his father. In his mind, he rationalized his decision. His father was a good man, it’s possible that he would have him back, even as a servant. Surely anything would be better than this. For days he walked, longing to feel whole again, yet watching his life fade.
Nearing death, he stumbled over a hill and saw his father’s estate on the horizon. His mouth was dry, his clothes were torn, and his feet were bleeding. Unable to walk any longer, he began crawling towards his father’s house. After a few feet, his body gave way from exhaustion and dehydration.
As he laid there dying, he remembered the words of Jesus: “Go sell your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me.”
Ironically, had the choice to lose all he had for the sake of following Jesus. Consequently, he had lost his life searching for peace in the things that he had.
Tears fell down his dusty cheek and caked where his face met the dirt. Then, on the faint desert breeze he heard his name. It was a familiar voice. One that he’d nearly forgotten. It was the voice of his father.
As the young man looked up, he saw his father running toward him shouting, “Son!” The father gathered his broken son in his arms, covered him with a robe, and embraced him with tears.
As they wept together, the father said, “Welcome home, son. Welcome home.”
The Prodigal in Me
I wept uncontrollably as I wrote this. These stories combined spoke a resounding truth that wrecked me emotionally and drew me ever so close to the feet of Jesus.
Part of me wept for the countless people who search for life on their own terms, letting their desire for comfort keep them from truly following Jesus. Another part of me wept with joy for the promise that we have as sons and daughters of God. It is only when we lose our life that we will truly find it.
At times, I am the Rich Young Ruler longing for eternal life, but unwilling to surrender my grip on the things of this world. In contrast, I am the Prodigal Son searching for life on my own. One is laden with pride, refusing to let go, while the other is caked in apathy, squandering the inheritance it’s been given. It wasn’t until I saw these personas as one that I received a beautiful picture God’s faithfulness.
We can lose all we have for the sake of following Jesus or we can lose our life searching for Jesus in all that we have.
Our Longing For Home
There’s a longing for home that has been placed in the human heart. Whether you’re trying to create that home with wealth and decorate the halls with accomplishments, or whether you’ve abandoned the idea of home altogether, the reminder from Jesus is simple, “Follow me.”
Jesus knows that stuff nor status can satisfy the longing of the heart to be made whole. We realize our longing for home in Him and Him alone. It’s in our humble surrender that we actually find life. That’s why Jesus asks us to let go of everything else. It’s less of a command and more of an act of love. He loves us enough to help us avoid the pain of squandering our lives on everything else. It’s only when we unseat our money and our agenda from the throne of our hearts that there will be room for Him to become our King.
Because at the end of the day, He’s simply a Father asking us to come home.