SON, SERVANT OR SLAVE
The parable known as “The Prodigal Son,” has always fascinated me. In it are multiple mysteries continuing to be unveiled. The facts are clear, there was one Father, with two sons, who were polar opposites. Does this sound familiar? So who exactly is “The Prodigal?”
Given my limitless imagination, here’s how I interpret this story:
There was a Father who had two sons. The firstborn son was the undisputed, entitled heir to the estate. The younger son, even though not the firstborn heir, also knew that he had an inheritance in his Father’s Kingdom. Seeing his older brother slaving to earn what was already his by right of being the firstborn, the younger son decided that he wanted a different life for himself.
Confident of his position in the family and assured of his Father’s love, kindness and favor, he decided that he wanted his inheritance sooner than later. Without entertaining the thought that His Father would withhold what he perceived to be rightfully his, he stated, (notice that he didn’t ask or beg because no one asks or begs for what they know to be rightfully theirs) “Father, give me the share of the estate that will be mine.” (Luke 15:12) Just as he believed, his Father (knowing that his son wanted what was rightfully his), without questioning his motives, gave him his share of his inheritance. However, being a wise Father, he already knew his son’s intent, yet He didn’t plead, manipulate, cajole, bribe, or threaten his son to stay home. He simply gave him what was his and let him go.
Back to the story:
We know that the son cashed in his share, went on a reckless spending binge and ended up working on a pig farm. When all was spent, the son decided to go home and was prepared to beg his Father to let him live as a servant because he had lost everything. So he went home, knowing that his father, who was compassionate, merciful and kind, would welcome him back. This son did many things wrong, but the one thing he did right, the one thing that makes all the difference, was his unwavering knowledge of his Father’s heart towards him. He banked everything on his relationship as a son to his Father. Do we know our Father like this son?
The story continues where this younger son goes home. His Father, who was always watching for his return, sees him from a “long way off…moved with pity. He ran and threw his arm around him and kissed him warmly.” (This scene always moves me to tears as Jesus wanted to expose the tender heart of a loving Father towards his children, even those who walk away from His Kingdom.)
Just as the son rehearsed, he began to beg for a lower position in the Kingdom. The Father cuts him off in mid-sentence, sending a loud message to everyone, that once a son, always a son. He has the ring and robe with the family crest that only His children wore, brought out. And He fully reinstates him to his rightful position, as a son and heir, (not a servant or slave) with the biggest celebration His community had ever experienced.
The other brother, the firstborn heir, sees the celebration, gets upset and refuses to enter into the feasting. A servant brings word to the Father that his firstborn son is upset, and what does this amazing Father do? He goes out and pleads with his firstborn!!! (And He still pleads today.)
In contrast, the Father never pleaded with the younger son to stay home. Yet He pleaded with His firstborn son. This firstborn son felt unable to enter into the family celebration, couldn’t understand the purpose and relationship between his Father and his younger brother. This is evident in his statement, “I have worked for you all these years, and I have never disobeyed your orders. But you have never even given me a young goat, so that I could celebrate with my friends. Yet this son of yours comes, who squandered your property with prostitutes, and for him you slaughter the fattened calf!” (Luke 11:29-30)
Key words in his declaration are italicized. This firstborn’s identity was as a servant to his master, a slave to his owner, and a worker to his boss, anything but a Father to His son. And as a servant/slave/worker in the Kingdom, his focus was religiously on earning and waiting to receive whatever the master doled out to him. What a drastic contrast to the younger son! Being a servant, slave, worker was never his mindset. All he knew was that he was a son and heir, and as such he was entitled to the benefits of his position to his Father. He also knew his Father’s heart towards him.
The Father’s perspective of His relationship to His firstborn son is evident in His response, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours…(Luke 15:31). In other words, He’s telling is firstborn, “Everything I have belongs to you. Don’t ask or beg for what is already yours. Take it. Don’t wait for me to give you what is yours. I’m a kind and generous Father and there’s more than enough for every one of My sons (and daughters) in My Kingdom. So come boldly, like your brother did, as a son, not a servant or slave. In fact, that approach dishonors My relationship as Father to my children.”
One of my mentors and teachers has often said, “what we think of Father God, is the most important thought we could ever have.” In this parable, Jesus made many startling points, the most important of which to me is regarding the relationship we choose with our heavenly Father, i.e. How we relate to Him. Which son (or daughter) are you?