There Was a Man Who Had Two Sons

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"There was a man who had two sons . . ." So begins one of the New Testament's most familiar parables. And the first eight words alone relate to almost anyone. Most of us are parents; each of us is a son or daughter; many of us have siblings. Read the whole account in Luke 15:11–32. Look carefully. Be honest. Do you find yourself somewhere in this story?

"Prodigal" means "squandering or wasteful," qualities immediately evident in the younger son. Desiring freedom and demanding his inheritance, the self-indulgent young man takes off for the good life and promptly "wastes his money in reckless living." His dream turns disastrous. In danger of starving, he takes a job feeding pigs, a task shamefully degrading for a Jew. When he finally realizes the depths to which he had descended, "he came to himself" and decides to risk returning home. Because he does not feel worthy, he will plead with his father to be taken on as a hired hand. Picture the bedraggled, road-weary, and destitute young man trudging home with the foul smell of pig slop around him like a dark cloud. (Remember Peanuts' Pigpen?) He has every reason to anticipate his father's wrath. The road home must have been painfully long. To his astonishment, his father not only has been watching for him from afar, but runs to embrace his wandering, wasteful son. After the son admits his sin, the father apparently has no need to hear the dreadful details! His joy is so great at his child's return that he lavishes gifts on him. The father graciously forgives his son, restores his family position, and plans an elaborate feast.

Though known as the parable of "the" prodigal, the story actually has two prodigals. Besides the self-indulgent younger brother, we meet the self-righteous older brother—for years faithfully serving his father. Though outwardly obedient, however, he harbors a hardened heart. How dare his father show such extravagant love toward that "son of his"! When invited to the festivities, he pouts and complains. In spite of his years of doing good, his father had never offered him such a party. As with the younger son, the father's response is gracious. "Child, you are always with me. Everything that is mine is yours." This son has also wasted his relationship with his father.

Both sons had separated themselves from the father's love. One by doing "bad" and one by doing "good." In both cases, the father wanted a relationship based on love, which he graciously offered to each, no strings attached. This is the extravagant love God offers us—love based neither on our lack of worth nor our good works.

Questions for discussion:

• Can you identify with one or both of the sons?

• Is God inviting you to accept your position as his beloved child?

• Where is God inviting you to love as the father loved?