The Parable of the Fathers’ Love
(Better known as the parable of the Prodigal son)
Jesus had many lessons that he wanted his disciples (and us) to learn. He often told parables –or stories- to get these lessons across. In Luke 15 we read three of Jesus’ parables that were all teaching the same message. It must have been an important message for Jesus to tell three stories that were all saying the same thing.
The message that Jesus is trying to get across in these three stories is that God, our heavenly Father, loves us and is emotionally attached to us. He worries and searches for us when we get lost in sin or when we travel down one of the roads that end up in a bad place.
The parable Jesus tells in Luke 15:11 begins with a father and two sons. The youngest son asks his father for his share of the estate and the father agrees to give it to him. Then this youngest son takes his money and “sets off for a distant country and squanders his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13b) It didn’t seem to take this young man long to blow his inheritance, did it?
And to make matters worse, soon after he spent all his money, a famine occurred and he didn’t have enough to eat. The young man looked around and finally got a job feeding hogs for a farmer, but he didn’t get paid much. Jesus tells it this way: “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the hogs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:16) Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?
While the son was sitting in the hog pen with the hogs, dirty and starving, he began thinking of how much he missed his home and family. He thought about how the men who worked for his father were paid enough to have a good life, and here he was miserable and hungry. Maybe he could go back home and ask his father to hire him. He could be one of the workers. He had sinned against his father and he knew he wasn’t worthy of being his son anymore. But maybe his father would let him hang around as a worker. He got up and started off walking down the long road back towards home.
In the meantime the father hadn’t stopped grieving and worrying about his youngest son. Ever since the boy had taken off, he had spent hours each day gazing down the road and up to the hills just hoping to get a glimpse of his son returning. Finally one day the father saw what looked like a traveler way off in the distance! Could it be his son? The father took off running. Let’s read how Jesus tells it. “But while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: the father ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20b)
The son told his father that he wasn’t worthy of being his son any more and asked his father for a job as a hired worker. But the father wouldn’t listen to any of that. He called his workers and ordered: “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on my son. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was lost and is found again: he was dead and is alive.” (Luke 15:22-24) So right away all the neighbors were invited to a party with feasting, music and dancing (Probably drinking too).
The oldest son had been out plowing the fields all day and as he trudged back home, sweaty and tired; he thought he could hear laughter and music coming from the house. When one of the workers told him that his younger brother had come home and his father was throwing a party, he really got mad. He sulked outside and refused to go in and join the festivities. His father went out and pleaded with his oldest son to come in and celebrate his brothers’ homecoming.
“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The father told his oldest boy. “But we have to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31)
Jesus’ parable tells us a lot about our heavenly Father, doesn’t it? First it tells us that God doesn’t stop us from doing what we want to do. The father in the story gave his youngest son his money and allowed him to leave, even though he didn’t want him to go. God doesn’t make us to be robots. He doesn’t force us to be good. We can leave our heavenly Father anytime we wish. Scripture tells us that since God has free will, we have free will too, since we are made in His image. This parable also teaches that if we leave the Father, He will keep anxiously waiting for our return. God is devoted to us and He will always welcome us back.
Along with this parable, Jesus told two other parables that were similar. One was a story about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep. But one day he found that one of his sheep was missing. Upset and worried, he left the ninety-nine and went out in the fields searching for his one lost sheep. Finally after a long exhausting search, he was overjoyed to find his lost sheep. He went home and threw a party, inviting his neighbors and friends with these words: “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:6b) Jesus added: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
And the third story that Jesus tells is about a woman who had ten silver coins and loses one. The woman turned everything upside down and searched everywhere in her house until she finally found her lost coin. And of course she called her neighbors and threw a party to celebrate the fact that she had found her lost coin. Jesus adds: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
These stories all teach the same truth: that God loves us. That when we stray away He cares enough to search for us, run after us and keep looking for us, always anxious to bring us back. Our earthly fathers may have let us down, even abandoned us. But we have a heavenly Father that will always be there for us. A God who is so thrilled when we come back to Him that there is celebrating in heaven with angels rejoicing. If we have strayed away, gone down a wrong road, or squandered all our money in wild living, let’s go back to our waiting Father. He will be overjoyed and we will be glad we did.