The prodigal son is a parable that is well known to the Christian and probably to the non-Christian as well. I think this story, told by Jesus, is one of the more famous narratives of God’s love and grace—probably because of the radical love put on display by the father. The story arrests our attention and forces our imagination to ponder decisions in our own life, how we have walked out on others (and God), and brings to question our own worthiness of love. For me, the parable bubbles some other things to the surface. Namely, how brokenness ripples through relationships and families, in specific.
Maybe you can relate to the feeling that your own family is a microcosm of this theme…a case study if you will. I know I do. My brother, Logan, was plagued with a drug addiction that landed him in a prison cell for probably a minimum of 10 years. The destruction of the addiction ripped through all of our relationships; affecting him, obviously, but also my parent’s marriage, all of my brother’s relationships, and even the relationship that I have with my parents.
Consider this ripple effect in the prodigal story:
The prodigal son (individually): The son finds himself eating what pigs eat. Blew through his money at the “clubs in Vegas,” on booze or whatever. And now finds himself working at hole-in-the-wall diner, lost and alone. He realizes that his choice to choose short-term gain and satisfaction has in fact left him quite empty.
The prodigal son and the father: The son comes walking home, dejected. Rehearsing what he might say to the father. He is clearly feeling unworthy and heavy shame. Surely, convinced that he is not enough anymore. What about the father? He is sitting on his front porch waiting…for days, for months, wondering what did I do wrong? Where did I miss opportunities to support, nourish, and encourage my son? Even, remembering specific situations or parenting blunders. Feeling regret or shame every time someone asks…”hey, what is your youngest up to?”
The older brother and the father: These are the two that were not the main actors in the consequential sin. However, they are collateral damage aren’t they? The older brother seems to take out anger towards the younger brother on the father. Accusing dad of not loving and not caring for him. The older brother becomes narrowly focused on himself, probably because he has already lost too much and does not want to lose anymore.
What was the father’s part in this? Did the father, in fact, spend a lot of time mourning and focused on the one lost son. Did he take for granted the responsibility and maturation of the older brother?
The two brothers: It has not even occurred yet to the younger brother what he has caused in the relationship with the older one. He may never fully understand. He is still focused on himself though he is coming around. The older brother is steaming. He feels like all dad cares about is the younger brother and does not even care that he is working away and caring for his responsibilities. He has always done what he is supposed to do. The older brother probably feels invisible. Alone. Some of it is warranted….some of it is completely made up or deceit convincing him that he should be angry. Now the younger brother comes home and things climax….you want to throw him a party? What if he does it again? He is just home because he does not have anything left. We cannot trust him again. He needs to EARN our trust again and you want to throw this huge party. NO! I am not participating.
Just how radical is the love of God? The father’s love in the narrative does much more than simply come out and forgive the younger son (or has the potential to). The love of the father brings the radical power to restore and heal serious deep wounds in all the relationships. Not only does he go out to the younger brother, but he also comes to meet the older brother. All are invited into the party. And I love that the story is open ended. It does not provide the details of the party. Jesus does not tell us if the older brother ever joins the festivities or who was invited to the party. I think that’s the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching through parables as it invites us all into the narrative and urges our lives to be the ink that tells the finale.
Over the years, God has shown me how I have also chosen myself over others in my family and those around me. His grace has allowed me to identify and bring to the surface pain and selfish desires, so that I too might be met by the Father out on the road—or in the field. This work can be uncomfortable and exposing, but it is necessary for God’s healing.
What are your open wounds? What are the hurts in your life that you have hidden from everyone in your life?