Summary: The story of the Prodigal Son is the story of three desperate men.
John Tung, 6-5-05
A few weeks ago, for Mother’s Day, I gave a message called “Desperate Mothers.” And in that message we looked at three women in the Bible who were desperate mothers due to different reasons. In the case of Eve she was desperate because she had lost one of her child. In the case of Jochebed, Moses’ mother, she was desperate because her child was in danger, and in the case of Hannah, she was desperate because she could not have a child.
And in order to have equal time, I will give a message today not called, “Desperate Fathers,” but “Desperate Men.”
This is because as I thought about what to preach on, the story of the Prodigal Son kept coming back to me. And in that story, there are three men, but only one father, so I decided to preach on that story and talk about the three men in that story, therefore, “Desperate Men.”
So, let’s turn to that famous parable Jesus told in Lk. 15:11-31. [Read.]
II. Desperate Men
A. Younger Son: Desperate to Get Away
The story begins with the younger son who asked for his inheritance from his father.
If we think about that a bit, it doesn’t sound right.
Who asks his father for his inheritance while the father is still healthy and alive?
Wouldn’t that be the height of disrespect and be extremely offensive? I mean, a grown child is very circumspect and careful to touch the issue of inheritance, yet this son just boldly demands, he didn’t even ask, but demands from his living father that he be given his inheritance now.
Nobody makes this kind of demand without previous thought. This son must have spent a good amount of time thinking about what he wanted to do with his life, and how he was going to finance that kind of life, and his conclusion was that he needed the inheritance now rather than later in order to live out the life he wanted.
And maybe he had been giving off that kind of a signal to his father for a while. In other words, he may already have been showing signs of being unhappy at home, discontent with life on the farm, and restless to leave for something else.
In other words, this younger son was desperate to GET AWAY.
When people reach a certain age, many of them have an itch to get away, to pick up their roots from where they grew up and to try to experience a new kind of life somewhere else.
The cities beckon to them. The excitement or imagined excitement of being by themselves, making decisions for themselves, making new friends, getting new experiences, can be so powerful that it pulls many young people from their homes and into the unknown. They are willing to take that risk.
But the Prodigal Son’s behavior is more radical than even that. He was not simply moving away due to a natural milestone in his life – like going to college or taking a new job in another city - his leaving can be seen as an act of rebellion.
We can say that because keep in mind back in the time when this story was told, grown children were expected to stay at home, or at least near by, to take over the family farm, and to care for their parents when they get old, and not wander far away from their parents.
But this younger son was more modern than his peers, and he dared to ask for his money and to leave right now.
Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author, who wrote a book on this parable called The Return of the Prodigal, said this act by the Prodigal Son was “a radical rejection and an offensive act” (cokesbury.com/Pdf/TeachableBooks/57_returnoftheprodigalso.pdf). In other words, if you were the father, you would take this personally as a rejection.
And yet strangely, we do not read anything about the father putting up a fight or resisting this act. Maybe he did resist for a while, but after seeing the intensity and persistence of his younger son’s desire to break free, he decided to let his son go.
And so after a short time the son left, with money in his pocket.
And the story continues by saying in vs. 13 that “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
He went to a place known for parties and cool people – in his mind, not like the people back at home - and he partied, he drank, got wasted and caroused. If this happened today, we would add that he took drugs, he clubbed, and he gambled. He indulged his pleasure as much as his money could buy.