Jesus’ story of two brothers (Luke 15) is one of those timeless parables that teaches at a variety of levels. It has been customarily referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son which is unfortunate as it is in reality a parable about two prodigal sons, one lost out of the house and the other lost in it. I have often thought, when reading this parable through the lens of reaching people far from God, how difficult we make it for prodigals to return home.
It seems to me that in the journey the younger brother took to returning to his father and his home, his greatest opposition came not from his fellow hedonists, or the exactly pig farmer with whom he scrounged a living, but from his own flesh and blood, his older brother. How is that those we assume would most want us home become the greatest obstacles to that happening?
Perhaps it would be easier if prodigals returned in suits, clean-shaven instead of smelling like a pig-farm. Perhaps older brothers would handle it better if prodigals came back having committed moderate misdemeanors as opposed to ripping them off of their inheritance.
If we learn anything from Jesus’ ministry, we learn that returning sons always come home messy. That prodigals are complicated and those outside the kingdom never fit in as neatly and precisely as we would hope.
I can think of one single young mum who came into my church with a neckline enough to give any man palpitations. And of a young man who turned up one Sunday morning with the most offensive language sprayed across his t-shirt! This kind of thing older brothers find extremely difficult to cope with. They expect a certain degree of modesty, decency and common sense goodness if prodigals are to occupy their pews.
This is why it never ceases to amaze me that Jesus has the father in this story not only running to his lost son, an act unheard of for middle-eastern, first century fathers, but has him kiss him (v20) before the son even gets the chance to explain himself. The embrace, the robe, the acceptance, the kiss, the fatted calf are not conditioned on repentance and changed behaviour….staggering!
Could it be that one of the reasons why we don’t see the amount of prodigals returning as we would like, is because we retain older-brother lenses as opposed to father lenses?
When was the last time you hugged a prodigal?