Guest contributor: Ed Trego
One of the most well-known parables of Jesus is the parable of the prodigal son. It is a remarkable story of forgiveness and acceptance that we all should better understand. God’s love for us knows no limits and his forgiveness is always available and will be readily given when properly asked for. To help appreciate the grace God offers us through forgiveness, let’s look at this parable in some detail. The parable can be found in Luke, chapter 15, verses 11 through 15. It’s not very long but the depth and beauty of this story and its meaning for us today is vital for our understanding of God’s love for us and his desire to keep us a part of his family.
“There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them”.
By asking for his inheritance this young man was in essence saying “I wish you were dead”. Under normal circumstances, the father’s death would be the only way the son would receive his inheritance. But the father agreed and divided his wealth, giving the son his share.
Don’t we turn our back on God in our lives as well? While we might not wish him dead, we certainly wish he would get out of our lives at times. The way we live our lives sometimes says thank you for your blessings but I’ll use them as I see fit for my own enjoyment. When we turn from God and commit serious sin, we are “killing” our relationship with God. At that point we have willingly told God to leave our presence.
“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.”
We too take the gifts of the father and use them foolishly and wastefully, just as this young man did with his inheritance.
In our society today, those who try to live their lives in recognition of God and the many blessings he has given are looked upon as odd or as a religious fanatic. We are taught by our television, movies, books and examples of supposed heroes that we should “just do it”. Marriage and the covenantal relationship between a man and a woman are one of God’s greatest gifts, but when was the last time you saw a new television series that exemplified a stable family relationship? In far too many cases the relationships that are depicted are adulterous and promiscuous with absolutely no evidence of marriage or fidelity. In fact, in the few cases where a character is recognized as have a moral attitude toward promiscuity and pre-marital sex that person is derided and ridiculed as old-fashioned or just plain stupid.
The same applies in the sports world. There are those who are blessed with athletic abilities far beyond most of us. However, it seems they have no understanding that their abilities are gifts from God. Those who are successful are routinely found to have had numerous affairs while married. In many cases they have violent interactions in their relationships and seem to think they are above the rules simply because they have the talents given by God that have enabled them to be extremely successful. Again, in the few cases where one tries to recognize and thank God for his many gifts, they are seen as out of the mainstream. In many cases they are laughed at and made fun of not only by other players but also the media that covers sports and all the depravity endemic to that profession.
“And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.”
It always seems friends are easy to come by when one has plenty of money and is willing to share it. There are numerous accounts of people who were quite wealthy and readily shared their wealth. They buy cars, homes, and all the newest “toys”, not only for themselves but for all of their supposed friends.Eventually, the money will run out in a lifestyle such as that. When this occurs the friends also run out. You see stories of these people living on food stamps, or homeless, or working in menial jobs such as the one the son in the parable found. Even some of the greatest of professional athletes spend their final years in such a state. They spent their gifts and the money those gifts provided foolishly and wastefully. Once it was gone, all those who supposedly cared for them left them alone and in crisis.
It’s worth noting that the young man was sent to feed the swine. As an Israelite this would have been virtually the worst possible experience. He was continuously unclean because of his proximity to pigs, which were an unclean animal that was not to be touched by the Israelites. Not only was he starving he was completely separated from his own people and his religion.
“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; treat me as one of your hired hands.'”
How far we fall when we fail to recognize our relationship with God and the tremendous debt we owe him. The young man finally realized his errors and decided to try to change his life. He recognized that he did not deserve the love or benevolence of his father but was willing to be a servant to him. We too have sinned against heaven and before God. We too are unworthy to be called a son by our Father in heaven. We too have lived our lives in such a way as to estrange ourselves from God. Yet God waits with open arms to receive us back into his family, regardless of our sins. We, like the young man, must recognize our faults and sins and truly repent of them. Once we realize how broken our relationship with God is, we can mend it and again become part of God’s family.
“And he arose and came home to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you: I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
It is noteworthy that the father saw the son returning while he was still far away. He had been watching for him, hoping that he would return. And he was ready to forgive him and accept him as his son once more. If fact, he was eager to reclaim his son and welcome him back into his family.
By the grace of God and the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, we also have the opportunity to experience a home-coming such as this. God is waiting for us with arms open wide, ready to welcome us home. All we need do is acknowledge our sins, and reject them in earnest sorrow and repentance.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7). The choice is ours. God is there, waiting for us to return home. He too will celebrate our return just as the father in the parable celebrated his son’s return.