The Prodigal Lost Son

Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 demonstrate the joy of finding lost things. I think it is something we perhaps have all experienced at times. A set of keys, important papers, cherished mementos, or simply something useful isn’t where we expect. We search and hunt and hope. When the lost is found, there is a bit of joy and celebration – and perhaps even a few grateful prayers.

The story tells of a younger son that asks for and wastefully spends his inheritance. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.” (Luke 15:12–13, NASB95)

I honestly don’t know if the younger son’s request was abnormal or not at that time. However, it is abnormal today where I live. But the important part is that the wealth was divided, and the younger son left the family. What the story doesn’t provide is the younger son’s motivation. While frustrating, it is also freeing and makes it easier for everyone to see themselves in the character of the young son.

So, the younger son took the money and wasted it. Perhaps he thought it would buy him friends and happiness. And it did for a time. But those kinds of friends have no roots, and that kind of happiness must be increasingly fueled. In time the young son came to the end of his rope with nowhere to look but up. Trapped in a meaningless, dirty, smelly job to barely survive, his thoughts turned towards home. He devised a plan, a hope to become just one of his family’s servants. Having a plan, he began the long, dusty and hungry, walk home.

We know the rest of the story. The father rushes to him, embraces him, clothes him, restores him, feeds him. It may have embarrassed the son a bit. Perhaps he was even overwhelmed with feelings of shame and unworthiness.

The son in the story is us, all of us. We have all been given the inheritance of life from God. We have all spent that gift of life in lavish self-centered ways. Perhaps some more than others, but that is not the point, and it really doesn’t matter. As Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“. (Romans 3:23, NASB95) We have all prodigally wasted God’s gifts to us.

Notice this. The lost son had a plan. His speech and persuasive words were all worked out. We can summarize, “I’ve sinned; make me a servant.” But the father in the story didn’t even let the son complete his request. (Compare Luke 15:19 with vs. 21). Many times, in the wake of our sin, we come to God with a plan or a promise. God, however, responds with welcome, love, and forgiveness.

I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell us anything more about the lost son. What were his feelings when his father welcomed him home? How did things go for him afterward? Leaving out that part of the story makes it even easier for us to see ourselves as the lost son. 

So, where are you at? Which part of the lost son’s story is most like your own? The arc of the lost son starts with jealousy and desire, moves towards prodigal self-indulgence, lands in a slimy pit of despair, proposes a bargain to survive, and is finally welcomed home with a shower of love and joy. Know this, it may seem unlikely and even impossible because your sin is too great, but God will welcome you back through Jesus Christ.

Dale Heinold
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