5 characters, 3 lessons from the Parable of the Prodigal Son

By Dan Delzele

Jesus knew just how to address the needs of everyone, from the rebel on the run, to the person dripping with self-righteousness. And whenever the Lord told a parable, it spoke to a variety of situations and a wide spectrum of people. Jesus wanted everyone to know how much we all have to learn about the kingdom of God.
Each one of us can relate in some way to the parable Jesus told about a prodigal son, his father, and his older brother. (Luke 15:11-32)
First, there is the son who was restless and driven to experience whatever sinful pleasures money could buy. He wanted his share of the inheritance, and he wanted it immediately. In that culture, it was the height of disrespect for the son to make this request while the patriarch of the family remained in such good health. And yet, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from chasing the golden goose and sowing his wild oats.
As often happens, it wasn’t until his money ran out that he began to reflect upon just how good he had it before he went off on his lustful tangent.
Such is the nature of man. We feel driven at times. We get tempted. And if we are not careful, we make decisions which are rooted in fantasy rather than reality. The prodigal son chased his fantasy, but his fanciful dream eventually turned into a nightmare.
Thankfully, “he came to his senses.” (Luke 15:17) That’s when he started to realize everything he had given up, and how he had “sinned against heaven and against his father.” (Luke 15:18) You could say he “hit rock bottom.” And so there was no place to look but up.
This is the point in the story where the love of the Father explodes onto the scene.
The son headed home, “but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
No condemnation. No guilt-trips. No waving of the finger while saying, “I told you so.” Nothing but love, pure and unconditional.
“God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
And the love of the father in this parable points to the amazing grace and endless love of our great and mighty God.
If you are at a very low point in your life today, don’t despair. Jesus told this parable to encourage you to “come home” and find relief and forgiveness from the God who loves you, and the Father who sent His only son to die on the cross for all of your sins. You really can come home, and you really will be accepted by the Father through faith in the Son.
If you have been chasing the pleasures of the world in an effort to find satisfaction, just remember this: Real peace is not found in possessions, wild living, or money. It is found in meaningful relationships with our Creator and with our loved ones. So why chase after the counterfeit when the real thing is right in front of you?
The third character in the parable is the older brother.
He represents the family member or Christian who hasn’t wandered off the reservation in search of greener pastures. But that doesn’t mean the older brother didn’t have his own issues. And those issues came to light the moment his younger brother returned home.
While the father was busy throwing a huge party for his prodigal son, the older brother was fuming because he felt like it wasn’t fair. After all, he had stayed home and tended to his duties while the prodigal son was out living it up. So why should the party animal be treated like a guest of honor?
The self-righteousness was pouring out of the older brother when he scolded his father with these words: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29,30)
No love. No compassion. No thanksgiving. Just anger and selfishness.
Such is the nature of man’s heart when it is flowing in pride rather than flowing in gratitude and grace. Each one of us is prone to behaving in a similar way toward those who have strayed from the path and then returned home. If we are not careful, we will respond much more like the older brother and much less like the father.
This is our challenge, whether we are tempted to pursue sin in the world like the prodigal son, or sin while at home like the older brother. If I am running from God, then I can learn much from the prodigal son. If someone needs my forgiveness and acceptance, I can learn much from the father. And if I feel like I am not getting my fair share and that a “big sinner” is being shown too much mercy, I can learn a lot by studying the angry response of the older brother.
This parable speaks to all of us. We all have issues that require attention. We all have sins that need to be brought to the Lord. And we all can learn how to love like the father in this parable, especially when someone needs to hear the message that it’s not too late to change and start over with God’s help.
Which one of these three characters best describes your life today? Are you chasing sinful fantasies? Or perhaps stewing in self-righteous snootiness? If so, just remember: It’s not just a matter of coming home.

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