Most Christians are familiar with the long parable in Luke 15. It’s often referred to as the parable of The Prodigal Son.
A person doesn’t have to know the story from the bible to be familiar with the terminology, either.
That’s why my pastor piqued my interest recently when he referred to the story in Luke 15:11-32 as the parable of two sons.
And that name makes perfect sense because that’s how the story starts.
“A certain man had two sons…” (Luke 15:11) Furthermore, after verse 24, the “prodigal” isn’t an active participant in the story. The focus turns to the older son. The one that stayed.
I’m not one of those people who believes the prodigal represents a lost person. This is a son. It was great to know my pastor agrees with me on that point.
The depth of meaning in this parable required two sermons from my pastor.
Which gave me more time to consider the question: which son am I like?
The Rebellious Son
If you’re like me, you think of toddlers and teenagers when you think of rebellious children.
And no one wants to be categorized as a rebellious child. In Old Testament times, parents could bring their rebellious sons and daughters to the priest and the kids could be stoned to death.
Yes, I wouldn’t have lived to middle age as an Israelite in those days. I’ve broken too many of the commandments, and a gal can only be stoned to death once.
The term prodigal implies a wayward, misguided youth. That’s not the picture generated by the term rebel.
How did this guy rebel?
- Custom said he should wait until his father was dead before collecting an inheritance
- His travel to a foreign land implies he was abandoning his religious beliefs along with his family
- Do I really need to mention the “riotous living”? All of us can picture a rebel enjoying that sort of lifestyle.
Once the youngest son spent all his money, learned he didn’t have any true friends, and had to steal pig food to keep from starving, he woke up. Came to his senses.
He realized he’d dishonored his father and didn’t deserve to be considered a son.
Something to note here, this guy wouldn’t get a second chance at spending his inheritance wisely. It is gone. The father reiterates that when having a conversation with his older son(Luke 15:31).
But he knew the servants who worked for his father had a better life than what he had found on the back side of his rebellion.
I was a rebellious teenager. I’m not proud of the fact, but I’m not going to deny part of my story. I walked away from my mom and my Christian beliefs.
Life was a big party. But I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was empty inside, and I spent a lot of time and effort trying to fill that void.
My mother didn’t stop loving me during those years. I’m sure she prayed often and probably ground her teeth together at my cavalier attitudes. I know she tried to get me to see the error of my ways. I punished her by staying away when she did that too often.
Real mature, right?
But I mistakenly believed my revolt against everything I’d been taught was good and right meant I was being an independent thinker. I was free to do whatever I wanted.
You can guess where that landed me. Not quite in the pigpen stealing food from the jaws of a porker but pretty close.
On a spiritual level, we can rebel against our Heavenly Father. His commands are clear in scripture. The presence of the Holy Ghost in our hearts convicts us when we ignore what is right and head down the wayward path.
I have been a prodigal while attending three church services per week, singing in the choir, and working steadily in several church-elected positions.
You don’t have to go to a far country to be the prodigal one. What matters is if your heart is close to the Lord or hardened and far away.
The Angry Son
After I returned to church from my prodigal years, I became increasingly fascinated with the older son in this story.
He was the “good son.” The one who stayed and obeyed. His inheritance was secure.
But his attitude was wrong on many levels.
- He was angry (Luke 15:28)
- He refused to celebrate his brother’s return
- His father had to beg him to change his attitude (Luke 15:28)
- He pouted because his father had never given him such a lavish party (v.29)
- He made assumptions about his brother’s lifestyle (v.30)
Does that look like a list of things the “good” son would do?
I began to classify the many judgmental people in our church and churches we fellowshipped with as “older sons.” They thought they were better because they’d never rebelled.
Maybe they didn’t slide into the same pitfalls as the angry son in Jesus’ parable. But many of them refused to celebrate the return of prodigals. Instead, they wanted their acceptance back into the fold to be conditional. “If you prove yourself,” they would say.
It wasn’t a happy day when I looked in the mirror and this angry son reflected back on me. Not because of that judgmental attitude, but because I’d began to make assumptions about people who didn’t attend services as regularly as I did. If good things happened to them, I pouted as fiercely as Big Brother from the parable.
And I could feel my Father entreating me to change my attitude.
I believe the point of this story is not to decide which son was better. It’s to look in the mirror and see which brother’s shortcomings reflect back at you.
No human living on the planet is perfect. We all mess up. We slip into a rebellious mindset at times. Or we get angry when things happen that we don’t like.
Jesus told this story because he wants every sinner to understand that the Father is ready to be reconciled to his children. He’ll come with the robe and the ring. Or he’ll pat us on the shoulder, affirming that our treasure is securely invested in Heaven.
Take another look at the Parable of Two Sons. Who do you see looking back at you?