The parable of the prodigal son is a familiar passage of scripture. It is the story of a profligate black sheep of a family, who demands his inheritance and strikes out on his own to be the master of his destiny. A young man who doesn’t seek counsel, or heed the wisdom of elders. One who, in his youth and inexperience, nevertheless knows...well, everything...and wishes to throw off the restraints imposed by those who love him to suffocation and who don’t understand just how ready he is to take on the world.
There are many incredible lessons to be learned through the study of this parable, including the pursuing, merciful love of Father God who is watching for the return of His child, forgiving and forgetting dishonor, rebellion and transgressions in the same unbelievable moment, and celebrating renewed sonship. As a proclaimed child of this Father since the age of four, however, I have most often related to the oldest son. Yes, that’s right, I admit it. I have often felt a twinge of sympathy for the bitter, unbending brother of the redeemed black sheep.
The earthly father of the parable divided his estate and gave both of his sons their inheritances. The word “prodigal” actually means “wastefully extravagant; spending resources recklessly”. The oldest son, dutiful and prudent, took seriously the responsibility of cultivating and prospering the estate assets that were left. He was a man who stewarded his inheritance to bring honor to his father and ensure his own future security. I can imagine his reaction when he, trudging up from the field after a long day’s work, hears the music and laughter of a party already in progress, and finds out what’s going on.
“Why didn’t anyone come and get me? This wheat-fattened calf that’s been slaughtered...who’s paying for that? What in the world is the best ceremonial robe doing on that pig-stinking fellow? We’ve only got one of those, you know, and I was going to wear it on my wedding day. Who gave you permission to haul out wineskins enough for the entire neighborhood while I was out on the back forty? Who? DAD?”
I can see him now, standing stubbornly outside, thinking oldest-brother, anti-prodigal thoughts. “Restored to sonship, that’s what’s happened. That know-it-all punk kid is back, and he wasn’t content to cut this estate in half; he’s going to do it again, because he is wearing the family ring and is once again a joint heir. Wonderful.”
During a recent Woman’s Encounter session, I was reminded of what that earthly father said to his understandably irate older son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” This is the position of a son of the household, an heir. The youngest brother did not ask for a celebration, a fattened calf, or a ring. In fact, they were given to him, not because of what he’d done, but in spite of it. Even though he saw himself as a servant, Father saw him as a son. The eldest wanted to know why he was never given even a young goat and a party, particularly when he had worked so diligently? Didn’t he deserve reward...payment, even? Payment for service; this is the mindset of a servant of the household.
I so often approach God from a position of servanthood rather than sonship. If I pray with enough faith, if I confess enough scripture, if I give up the idols in my life, if I fast...then Father will bless me. He will give me good things, approve of me, celebrate me; it will be a reward, or a payment, for my effort. Even though it was by grace, through faith, that I became His daughter, somehow that process doesn’t apply to everyday life after adoption.
I can admit to an elder-brother twinge in my gut sometimes when I hear a praise report on Sunday morning; when a brother has received a resource from heaven that I need or long for. It’s a deep-seated, human fear of being overlooked in a family with limited resources, but thank God, I do not need to stand outside the party, worrying about my future or asking “What about me?” I can celebrate, knowing that I’m a joint heir with Jesus, my warrior King and the Lord of all, and my inheritance is a kingdom of limitless resources and unconditional love without end, including approval in spite of, not because of, any works—good or bad—that I lay on the altar.
“You are always with me, child. I am always with you. Everything I have is yours. Everything.”