We have come to maybe my most favorite Bible story of all: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That is such a strange name for this parable. ”Prodigal” means extravagant and, while the younger son did live a life of decadent extravagance for a time, it is the father who is the truly “prodigal” one. And this is as much a story about the older son as it is the younger son. So let’s call it the Parable of the Two Sons.
I am reticent to say much of anything about this parable. This is like sacred ground. You just sit and listen. You take it in and praise God. As I see it, this parable is all of the Gospels in a single story. Maybe the whole Bible. Definitely the gospel message. Pair it with Rembrandt’s depiction of the parable and a lot of other words aren’t necessary. Therefore, I am reproducing Wright’s version of the story in toto instead.
Once there was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to the father, “Father, give me my share in the property,” So he divided up his livelihood between them. Not many days later the younger son turned his share into cash, and set off for a country far away, where he spent his share in having a riotous good time.
When he had spent it all, a severe famine came on that country, and he found himself destitute. So he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed his pigs. He longed to satisfy his hunger with the pods that the pigs were eating, and nobody have him anything.
He came to his senses. ”Just think!” he said to himself. ”There are all my father’s hired hands with plenty to eat — and here am I, starving to death! I shall get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, ‘Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer. Make me like one of your hired hands.’” And he got up and went to his father.
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and his heart was stirred with love and pity. He ran to him, hugged him tight, and kissed him. ”Father,” the son began, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.” But the father said to his servants, “Hurry! Bring the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet! And bring the calf that we’ve fattened up, kill it, and let’s eat and have a party! This son of mine was dead, and is alive again! He was lost, and now he’s found!” And they began to celebrate.
The older son was out in the fields. When he came home and got near to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.
“Your brother’s come home!” he said. ”And your father has thrown a great party — he’s killed the fattened calf! — because he’s got him back safe and well!”
He flew into a rage, and wouldn’t go in.
Then his father came out and pleaded with him. ”Look here!” he said to his father, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years! I’ve never disobeyed a single commandment of yours. And you never even gave me a young goat so I could have a party with my friends. But when this son of yours comes home, once he’s finished gobbling up your livelihood with his whores, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
“My son,” he replied, “you’re always with me. Everything I have belongs to you. But we had to celebrate and be happy! This brother of yours was dead and is alive again! He was lost, and now he’s found!” (15:11-32)