Parables For Today: The Prodigal Son
By Harold Fite
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL son has been described as " the greatest short story in the world." It speaks of sin, sorrow, and salvation. It exposes the sinful desire which led to the son's demand, departure, destitution, and degradation. It reveals strength of character, as the Prodigal came to grips with himself, repented, and returned with resignation to his father. It proclaims the joy of restoration, and articulates the beauty of a forgiving father. It exposes the attitude we should have toward those who return to God from the "far country."
The parable of the Prodigal Son is a drama that is repeated frequently. As the curtain rises. we observe a young man who has fallen on hard times. He is feeding swine. He is destitute of money and friends; He is hungry. In spite of his stinking environment, he is tempted to eat the husks that the hogs were eating. This man has hit rock bottom.
To what can we attribute his unpleasant situation? How did he come tho this tragic end? It all began with the demanding of his inheritance and the inordinate desire which promoted it. The Scriptures imply that he wanted his inheritance that he might go into a far country and spend it in riotous living (verse 13). He wanted to experience the carnal pleasures of life. I would think, remembering a time of my youth, that there was a song in his heart and a spring in his step as he left his father's house, exhilarated, almost giddy with the exciting sense of freedom.
He was leaving his father's oversight: no longer would he hear "don't do that." and "do this." He could go where he pleased. He could do as he pleased. What a beautiful day! It's great to be alive!
Buoyed by the sense of freedom, he was, in reality, plunging himself into bondage: "for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage" (2 Peter 2:19). We belong to him whom we serve. "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin" (John 8:34). We remain free as we live within the confines of God's law.
This young man "took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living" (verse 13). What possibly took years to accumulate went "down the drain" in a senseless search for pleasure. The Prodigal lived for the present with no thought of the future. Sin is a waste: a waste of time, talent, and money.
His dissipation contributed to his destitution. The Prodigal found himself in want (verse 14). This is how sin leaves us. It never fulfills its promises; it doesn't satisfy. It leaves a fathomless void which cries out for fulfillment. Bereft of friends and funds, the Prodigal Son "joined himself to one of the citizens of that country: and he sent him into his fields to feed swine" (verse 15).
This is where we found him when we began this article. He had no one to blame but himself. He couldn't blame his father, friends, or society. His life was what he chose it to be. He made the decision; He is responsible; He must accept the consequences.
He magnified his legal rights to the exclusion of his moral rights. Rights granted to us by law are not always the same as moral rights. There are sins we may commit legally, but not morally. Under the umbrella of legal rights the Prodigal carried out his evil design. Young people! As you leave home to enter the higher schools of learning, you can live in the gutter if that is what you desire. You have the legal right to do it, but not the moral right. The Prodigal Son did not distinguish between the two.
Now what is he to do? Continue his "pigpen" existence? Rob someone? Commit suicide? To his credit, he "came to himself" (verse 17). He resolved to return to his farther, make his confession of sin and acknowledge his unworthiness. He returned with resignation, and with the happy contemplation of restoration.
"While yet afar off his father saw him (verse 20). Now, some fathers would have said to themselves, "Well, here he comes. I knew he would come back when his money played out and he got hungry." We fathers might have listened to his confession rather stoically, then replied sternly, "Go on back to your room, and when you have proven yourself, we'll talk about it."
But not this father! He "was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." The fatted calf was killed. The penitent son was adorned with the robe reserved for honored guests. The ring, suggestive of the covenant of love, was placed on his finger. Shoes were put on his feet (barefoot suggested shame and mourning). This was a happy time: "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."
Now, the elder brother . . . but, that is another story.
For those of you who have left the Father for a "pigpen" life-style in a "far country," return to the Father. He is compassionate and forgiving. Your return will cause the angels in heaven to rejoice (verse 10).