The surprises of the prodigal

“A certain man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’  And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, where he squandered his estate with loose living….” (Luke 15:11ff.)

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is iconic. That means it is typical, well-known, an accurate depiction of a thousand things about this life.  Understand that story and you know a great deal about how life works and what God does.

If you knew nothing more about God than how He is depicted in this parable, you would love him with all your heart.

You and I are represented by the foolish, younger son.

That son, the subject of a few million sermons and the inspiration of almost as many conversions, received a lot of surprises in this story…

One. He was surprised that the father granted his selfish request. Some lessons we just have to learn for ourselves, and the Father was a good teacher.

Two.  He was surprised that the father allowed him to leave.  Surely, he must have thought, I will be stopped.  After all, this is a lot of freedom I’m being allowed.

We are all surprised at the leeway the Father gives us.  Of course, when our decisions turn out to be ill-advised and the harvest of our wild oats are found to be bitter and diseased, we tend to criticize our Heavenly Father for ever allowing us such freedom in the first place. We want it both ways: for us to have the right to do as we please, but God to protect us from the result of our foolishness.

Three.  He was surprised at all the friends he now had.  Previously, back at home, it was just family.  Now, he is the toast of the town.  Surely, he must have thought, this is real life.

Four. He was surprised at how quickly his so-called friends dropped him when his funds ran out.  Do you suppose they were drawn to him just because he could pay for the drinks? Nah. Surely not.

Five. He was surprised at how far down he descended.  To slop hogs for a living would have been the ultimate insult for a Jewish boy.

Six. He must have been surprised at how long it took him to humble himself and repent.  Finally, when he hit bottom, he “came to himself” (15:17).  Sadly, some people never seem to come to their senses, no matter how low they sink.

Seven. When he “came to himself” and headed toward home, he was surprised to find his father rushing to meet him.  Instead of being resistant or angry, the father was eager to find him and welcome him.

Some familiar with the ways of the Middle East have speculated that the father was rushing to meet the wayward son to keep the neighbors from stoning him.  After all, what he had requested and what he had done were the moral equivalent of cursing his father, something worthy of execution by stoning in the Old Testament days.

Eight. He was surprised by the father’s love.  He interrupted the son’s speech of contrition.

Anyone who reads the Gospels is quickly overwhelmed by the love of the Lord for the wayward, the sentiment which provoked this parable in the first place (see Luke 15:1-2).  When one reads the event in the opening verses of Mark 2, he sees the same thing, not only that Jesus is willing to forgive but that He takes the initiative in doing so, even when no one asked for it.  God is far more willing to forgive than we are to ask.

Nine. He was surprised at how total was the father’s forgiveness.  A ring on his finger, a robe on his body, the feast for everyone.  What had he expected–a partial restoration, probation, servanthood?  And so with every repentant sinner since.  He saves, says the old adage, from the guttermost to the uttermost.

Ten. He was surprised by the unwillingness of the brother to receive him, to forgive him, and welcome him.  Now, we may assume he knew his brother all too well.  But the father’s love had been so overpowering, the welcome so wonderful, the forgiveness so far-reaching, that he must have allowed himself to think everyone felt the same way.  Now, he hears a sour note introduced into the music.

No wonder this story is so beloved.  No wonder the hearts of those of us who have strayed and rebelled, have resisted and stone-walled and cursed God, are touched by this simple story of a loving father receiving a returning son.

There is room at the cross for you, my friend.

Come on home.

Even if not everyone at home will rejoice, it’s enough that the Father wants you home and is waiting to welcome you into His loving arms.

Let nothing stop you.  Let no one hinder you.

Come on home.



One thought on “The surprises of the prodigal

  1. Buddhism has a similar story but the prodigal has to earn his place back in the father’s house. God let the prodigal back in immediately.

    That said, I have never liked how the old brother was portrayed in the sermons on and in this gospel story. For the one who did what he was supposed to do and feels like he got nothing for doing so, maybe even criticism for not being 100% perfect, I understand why he wasn’t happy. I know God is happy to take back those who return, but for those who never left, they would like to feel like someone somewhere loves them too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.