Our last Daily Devotion will be published on Saturday, May 30th.
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“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Devotion: A Tale of Two Prodigals
The parable of “The Prodigal Son” troubles me, and always has. Unlike another of my favorites appearing only in Luke’s Gospel, the Good Samaritan has a distinctly happy ending. Its narrative is straight forward and transparent—easily apprehended by the reader or listener. We recognize the circumstances of the encounter between the two, and along with the lawyer questioning Jesus, readily answer the query “And who is my neighbor?” with the response “Why, the one who showed him mercy.” Ballgame over. Happy ending.
And what of the two protagonists—the Samaritan and the victim he saved? We naturally assume they will “live happily ever after.” But what of the lawyer doing the questioning? Do we believe he followed Jesus’ prescription to attain eternal life? We really have no way of knowing, and I suspect most of us don’t give it much thought. We have our answer from the Master, Himself, and we are satisfied. Any further conjecture is “above our pay grade.”
By contrast, the Prodigal Son presents no such easy solution. Instead we are left with a feeling of incompleteness, of something being seriously amiss. And on a personal level it nags at me, much like a pebble one finds in a shoe that renders walking or running painful. On the one hand we have the younger son asking his father for his inheritance before it was due him – an outrageous demand in light of the fact that his father was still alive, and that as the younger of the two siblings he would be entitled to a smaller share. But Jesus tells us that the father divided the property and did as his son asked. Whereupon the son immediately went out and squandered it all, sowing his “wild oats.” Soon penniless and starving, he returns to his father and with true repentance, begs forgiveness. His father not only forgives him, but overjoyed at his return, throws him a mega-homecoming party!
And that is where the parable should end, on a high note—but it doesn’t. We have the elder brother injecting a discordant note into the festivities. Not only is he resentful of his brother’s return, he is furious with his father for what he views as disloyalty and gross favoritism. And though the father attempts to diffuse the anger with words of comfort and assurance toward his elder son, we have no indication that it changes his son’s heart. And there the story ends. A paradox. In a sense both sons are prodigal. Looking in, from the outside, we can only pray that the elder son, too, changed his heart and welcomed his brother’s return.
Finally, I believe what Jesus was teaching us is that God’s love and forgiveness are boundless, but that, in the end, the choice of whether or not to accept that love is ours alone.
Gracious, loving heavenly father, we thank you for these parables and the certain knowledge of your limitless care for us. We ask now that you will help us to take that giant leap of faith that enables us to mold us in your image. We ask it all the strong name of our lord and savior Jesus, the risen Christ. Amen.