Which son was the best: the obedient, older son or his wild and reckless brother – the one we call the “Prodigal Son?” If you haven’t read through that challenging parable of Jesus recently, you can find it at this link: or in the Gospel of Luke in chapter 15:11-32. But which kid was the best in his father’s eyes: the one that took his inheritance early and ran off to lose it all in wild living? Or was it the one who faithfully stayed home and worked hard on the farm? That sounds like an easy question, unless you’ve ever been a father.
At the end of Jesus’ story, the younger, wilder brother has been reconciled to his father and is enjoying a joyous homecoming celebration. The older and more responsible brother is outside, sulking by himself, missing the party. But notice the attitude of the father. When he saw the younger brother was coming home, he saw him a long way off and ran to meet him. When he heard the older boy was refusing to come in to the party, he went out and pleaded with him to come in. The father loved both boys and yearned for them both to be in close fellowship with him. He went out to find both boys. As far as the father is concerned, they are both loved.
So why is one brother, the one who didn’t deserve it, reunited in close fellowship with his father and why is the good boy estranged? The difference was the turning point in the attitude of the younger brother. He realized that he had separated himself from his father and did not deserve to be considered a son. And then he turned around, with no excuse and nothing to offer, to ask his father to take him on as a hired hand. If you have been chewing on the “Fresh Bread” from Isaiah 57:15 (See “In a Nutshell”), this was the moment when the younger son became “lowly and contrite.” God told Isaiah He would live with the person who was lowly and contrite in order to bring that person back to life. That life, we have shown, is the Spirit of God, living in the soul of a person, connecting him or her to God the Father in an intimate and interactive way. This was the way God designed us to live. It is no accident that Jesus ended His parable with the father telling the older son, “…this brother of yours was dead and isalive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32b)
God designed us to be fully alive, fully reconciled to Him. His life is full life and He yearns to give that life, His Spirit, to anyone who will accept it. Which necessarily means anyone who turns around and comes home to Him “without one plea.” The trouble is, we humans want to work to be good enough to be loved by God. Just like the older brother. There is no real life standing outside with the older brother, with your arms crossed and your lower lip sticking out, There is no reconciliation for those who cling to self-righteous pride.
If your little boy or your young daughter came to you and said, “Daddy (or Mommy), if I clean up my room and make my bed, then will you love me?” how would you respond? Your child cannot earn your love; it is logically impossible because love is a gift. It’s that way with parents and also with God. God is our Loving Father.
Which son is best, which son blessed? Better yet, which son (or daughter) are you?
PS – There is a reason it feels right to us to try to earn God’s love. Stay tuned…