Summary: The Prodigal Son is a classic story of God’s love in a parable of a hippie, Sick of Home, who went out into the world but finding disillusionment was Homesick, and coming to his senses, came Home.
THE PRODIGAL SON AND HIS HOME
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the classic stories of Jesus in sketching out bit by bit his message of the kingdom of heaven or, in other words, eternal life. The parable teaches us a lot about ourselves. It’s a parable that says we’ve failed; and who can say they haven’t? It says something about the freedom that God has given us - a freedom to wander away and then to return to faith. The best summary of the parable I’ve seen is very concise - sick of home, homesick, and home. Those five words seem to say it all but, as a sermon is usually longer than that I’d better carry on! Let’s think of the first phase of the story:
SICK OF HOME
One day the younger son demanded his share of the family inheritance. It seems from the story that the second son was very much a "hippie" of his day. Life at home was far too constricting and he wanted to get away - he was sick of home. I wonder why?
Was it the restraint of his kindly father who only wanted the best for his son? Was it that dull, "too true to be good" older brother of his that made him restless? At any rate, it seems he was weary of needing to observe the family’s lifestyle. He wanted to break away, to taste life to the full, to be his own man. Staying at home would cramp his style and he would lose out, missing the best the world could offer. What was there for him here when the excitement was "all out there", just for the taking? Yes, we’ve heard that before. If we haven’t done it, we’ve probably thought of it!
This young man, perhaps only in his late teens demanded his portion, "Father," he said, "give me my share of the estate" (12). He really wanted his independence. True, he had freedom at home but there were always limits, standards, and rules. He was after complete freedom, a liberty without law. He was determined to do as he pleased with no one looking over his shoulder.
This desire for complete moral freedom, for throwing off the shackles of the basic rules of life is no stranger to men and women, young and old. We see it every day. It’s a fantasy that brings nothing but trouble. It’s an arch deception. It’s as old as mankind itself. Do you know where it’s first recorded in the Bible? It’s in the opening chapters of Genesis, in the very formative days of human existence, portrayed for us in the Garden of Eden.
It seems hard to believe that the first couple of the human race should be sick of home in this earthly paradise, but truth is often stranger than fiction. God, in his wisdom, created mankind as a responsible being as the climax of his creation. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of plenty; God himself said, "it was very good" (1:31). At the centre was "the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (2:9). In doing this God gave our first parents a fundamental choice to obey or disobey.
Their freedom was limited by one prohibition. It was the command "You shall not eat" of that tree, which made Adam and Eve sick of home. It wasn’t a harsh restriction, but rather a boundary within which they were placed for their own good. True liberty is only found within bounds. If you’ve got a goldfish in a bowl and somehow it’s "liberated" from its water, it won’t survive long in its newfound freedom: so with humans. God’s divine word of restriction is in fact the only basis for real freedom. It is his law that guarantees our freedom.
Sadly, the story of mankind is that we’ve been deceived. Every since that first crisis in the Garden mankind has longed for a freedom which wasn’t a freedom because it was outside of the ring-fence of God’s protective law. The tempter suggested to Eve, "Don’t worry your head over divine commands. You don’t have to live under that kind of restriction. There’s a world out there to be experienced, delights to be tasted, and you can be on your own!" Our first parents fell for the freedom of not trusting God. Adam did what every self-respecting man has done since then - he blamed his wife! And she blamed the serpent! All in the best traditions of mankind! It became the doorway to the loss of freedom itself, and what terrible consequences. Adam and Eve could be said to be the first prodigal son and daughter.
In the story that Jesus told, the father didn’t argue with his son. He knew that if his son was ever to learn he must learn the hard way and he gave him his request. He goes to his safe and counts out the inheritance. He will not force his son to stay, or even plead with him. He knows that home is not home any longer to a boy who has become estranged from him, sick of home. Those weary of God the Father’s home are always free to go. That’s the awesome mystery of our human situation. When we insist on having everything now, breaking our ties with God and wandering off, he lets us leave.