Summary: So what do we learn from this parable? We learn who the Father is, and what His nature is.
Today, Jesus tells us a parable, a story. You probably know the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And the point of the parable is simple: When the lost are found, you rejoice. Instead of being a spoilsport, looking down on someone else, you rejoice when a sinner repents, and you join the celebration. But of course the ticket into the party is repentance, something few in our day think they need, whether inside the Church or out.
So what’s the parable? A prodigal son, a son without shame, insensitive and selfish, demands his share of the inheritance before its time. He says, “It’s my money, and I want it now!”
What is he is really saying? He’s saying, “Dad, I can’t wait around for you get old, decrepit, and die. It’s too bad you’re still alive. But I won’t wait around until you’re dead: I want my inheritance now. So give it to me.”
And for some reason, the father is gracious and gives his son the share of the inheritance. Then, with his wallet bulging, the younger son is off and running. He scampers off to the Las Vegas of his day; and what happens there, stays there. Or does it?
He connects himself with some fair-weather friends, drinks wine like it’s water, and women, “Well, hey, you only live once!” And like many young men on their own with too much money and no responsibility, he wastes it all. He lives it up, until the cash runs dry. When everything money can buy is gone, he winds up without friends, hungry and homeless in a pagan land. “Prodigal” is too good of a word for him: to speak bluntly, the boy is a no-good, thoughtless scoundrel.
But life even gets worse for this despicable son: a famine strikes the land! And no one gives the prodigal the time of day. But he finds a job--feeding pigs. What a picture: He feeds pigs that his religion forbids him to eat! He feeds them food that he can’t even eat for himself! Begging would be more honorable than tending swine in such a way.
And when the pig feed begins to look good, this young man suddenly comes to his senses. Like most rogues and con-artists, he has a shrewd and cunning mind. He is hungry and in shame, caring for a pagan’s unclean animals, while his dad’s servants are eating three meals a day at home!
So he hatches a plan. The son knows what buttons he will push. “My dad’s a softie. I’ll go to dad and sound religious! Yeah, I’ll say something like, ‘I’ve sinned against heaven and against you . . . blah, blah, blah . . . and then ‘pass the potatoes, buddy!’”
He has his speech all set and he sets out for home. It seems like the perfect plan. His father can save face; he will sound religious and look like a good boy, and even better, he’ll have some bread in his belly.
The younger son is simply acting in self-interest. Pig stench and pig droppings are now the center of his world. If he shows a little act of contrition, it’ll be a good bargaining chip, a chance to live in town, go home to his friends, and feed his stomach.
So the young son gets out of the mud and heads back to his father’s house, rehearsing his little speech as he walks along the road. But this is what the young son doesn’t know. The father’s been waiting for him all along. The father’s been looking for the son’s return--since the brat left home!
So as the son makes his way toward the village, he sees a figure running toward him. It’s his father! Setting aside all his dignity, the father runs down the road to embrace his corrupt and conniving son.
And when the son begins his well-rehearsed speech, the father interrupts it by hugging and kissing him. The son begins to break free of his father’s embrace long enough to continue his little speech. “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the son doesn’t even get a chance to finish his canned speech! Instead, the true moment of repentance comes for this wayward son!
The father, the dad, tells his servants to dress his son--still in his filth and poverty--with the best family robe he has. The son’s dirty finger is to be fitted with the family ring, the credit card of the day. His filthy feet are to be cushioned from the ground with sandals, which normally only the householders and managers of the estate can wear. Kill the fatted calf, start the barbecue, pour the wine, let the party begin!
And the son didn’t even get to finish his speech about working as a common servant, a day-laborer for hire.