Today, I'm starting a three part series on the story of the Prodigal Son. The story of the prodigal is a story of God's grace to his wayward children when they come home. It is also a story with a number of layers that speak to us in different ways at different times in our lives. Henri Nouwen wrote a book titled, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on his reflections on a painting by Rembrandt. My ramblings come largely from reading this book.
The first person we encounter in the story is the younger son. This son comes to his father and asks for his part of the inheritance that would come to him after his father dies. This is more than just a request to get money due him earlier than he would normally receive it. The ones who heard this story would have been outraged at the attitude of the younger son. In effect, he was saying to his father, "I reject you and everything you stand for, your culture, your religion, everything. I wish you were dead!" In a culture where rebellious children could be stoned to death, this was a dangerous and devastating statement for the son to make and for the father to hear. The father however, decided to give his son what he asked for. He handed over the money and said goodbye. As a father, I can imagine the heartbreak he went through as one of his sons turned his back on everything and left.
The younger son went off to a "distant country," where he squandered his inheritance on parties and whores. He was completely deaf to the voice that would have reminded him of his father's love and of what he had been taught. In short, he forgot who he was. I would imagine that most of us can see ourselves in the younger son in some way. Some may have wandered into a life of dissipation and come out of it. Others may have experimented with some things but not gone all the way in. In my own life, I was drawn in to things that were not good for me, although I never wandered completely away. Of course, there are some out there who would consider me a prodigal today.
There is another way to be the younger son, a way that many, many more have fallen into. That is the way of forgetting whose child we are and trying to get our identity from other things or other people. That is the way I most identify with the prodigal. Whether it's from a job, a skill, a style, or a group of people, we try to prove our worth by other things than what our Father says. Our culture says that what is important is how you dress, what job you have, what kind of car you drive, how much money you make, or what group you hang out with. Unfortunately, those things become like the husks the prodigal wished to eat while feeding the pigs. Trying to find our worth and identity in any thing of this world is a futile exercise, leading to emptiness.
Fortunately for the prodigal, he did come to his senses and remember who he was. I can see him slapping himself on the forehead, and saying, "What am I doing here? I'm not a pig farmer! I'm a son of a father who has a lot of money and food! Why am I starving here?" So, after coming to his senses he returned home. He still didn't completely remember who we was though. Or better, he didn't understand completely the kind of person his father was. His plan was to go home and convince his father to give him a job. He didn't believe his father would accept him back as a son. We sometimes also forget who we are dealing with when we go to our Father. We believe the lies that we can't be his child if we do certain things, or that we have to do something to get ourselves back into his good graces. We feel we have to "get right with God." We forget that our Father loves us and always accepts us.
The son returns and finds himself in the midst of a homecoming better than he could have imagined. He can't get his prepared speech out before his father welcomes him back and throws the biggest party the neighborhood has ever seen. So it is when we come to our senses and remember who we are. We are beloved children of the Creator of the universe. He is pleased with us, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to cause his love to decrease, and nothing we can do to increase his love. He holds us in his hands and nothing can pull us out. Period.
Remember who you are. If you've forgotten, your Father is looking for your return so he can lavish his grace and love on you.