Life lessons from the Prodigal Son
I’m sure at some point in your life, you have used the words, “It’s just not fair.”
Maybe you’ve said them about something that happened in your family. Your sister or brother gets something and you don’t and, “It’s just not fair.”
Or, it happens at school. Your friend did the same thing you did and got a better grade. That’s just not fair.
It can happen at work. You have worked your rear off to get a promotion and then someone else walks away with it. It’s just not fair.
And, it happens when it comes to getting a reset in life. Resets are second chances, do-overs, mulligans. In Christian terms, they are moments of grace, mercy and forgiveness when we get a chance at renewing and redeeming our lives.
And, in all honesty, it’s just not fair.
That’s illustrated in so many of the parables that Jesus tells in scripture. Parables are stories with kingdom meaning. In fact, in many of his parables, Jesus begins with the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
But Jesus tells a parable that many people have probably heard before. What’s in this parable has been used as the basis of novels and films. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son.
It starts like this: The youngest of two sons comes to his father and asks for his inheritance (The crowd listening to Jesus is shocked!). The father gives the young son his money and then the son moves away to another country and blows through his fortune. For awhile, the younger son is the life of the party. But eventually, basic finance catches up with the youngest son: He’s spending more than he’s making.
The young son finds himself penniless, friendless and working on his own episode of “Dirty Jobs.” The young son is feeding pigs and he’s so hungry he’s thinking about eating the pig slop. This is rock bottom.
He realizes that the servants working for his dad have a better life than he does right now. So, he talks himself into going back to dad, begging for forgiveness and asking if he could be one of his father’s servants.
The son walks home and his dad sees him while he is still off in the distance. The father runs to meet his son and welcomes him home again with a scandulous amount of grace and forgivness. He gives his son some new clothes and orders his servants to fire up the grill and invite the neighbors. There’s a huge party to welcome home the son who was lost but who now is found.
It’s a heartwarming, must-see kind of story. The problem, though, is that the story doesn’t end at the community barbacue. There’s another brother.
Now, before we get to his story. Let’s talk about what happened here:
- Little brother blew through all of his money.
- Little brother hit rock bottom and had no choice but to come home again.
- Dad sees his son, loves his son, forgives his son and celebrates.
- His dad bails him out and will probably use the older brother’s money to do it.
- And to top it all off, the little brother gets a party to celebrate his reset.
Let’s face it — this parable is a reset story. The father gives his youngest son grace and mercy. Grace is getting a gift that you do not deserve (He is welcomed back home). Mercy is not getting what you do deserve (His father is not angry and there is no call to punish the younger son).
But, there’s another word that gets thrown into the mix. That word is justice. Justice is when we want someone to get what they do deserve. The great tension of faith, church and resets is that a part of our nature is that we want grace for ourselves and justice for everyone else.
And it shows up in the rest of this story about a reset. Here is how it appears in Luke 15:25-32:
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (NIV)
When you read these verses about the older brother, what does he say that really isn’t true?
- He has been working in the field while the younger brother was taking it easy in another country.
- The older brother feels that he has been wronged or disrespected by his father.
- He says his father never let him celebrate with his friends.
- The younger brother did blow through the money.
All of those things are true. But now, the older brother is seeing what has happened to his younger brother through the lens of anger. The older brother is furious that his younger brother is being treated this way. The older brother is so angry that he refuses to be a part of the great celebration that the lost has been found.
For the older brother, this entire situation is just not fair. And his father’s explanation might even add more to that feeling:
- Son, you’ve always been here and everything I have is yours (The youngest brother received a third of the inheritance. The remaining two-thirds already belongs to the older brother.) That’s a constant in this situation.
- He says that the variable here is the younger brother. The younger brother was dead (dead to us, dead in his sin, dead in his situation). It was as if he no longer existed.
- But now, this younger brother who is dead is alive to us again. He’s back in the fold. He was lost. Now he’s found. He had a before, a reset and now he has an after.
- Resets are always worth celebrating.
In the song, Be My Escape, the band, Relient K, sings: “And this life sentence that I’m serving/ I admit that I’m every bit deserving/ But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.”
That’s part of the problem, right? Grace is absolutely not fair. It’s what we would most want for ourselves and what we do not want for others, for those who have wronged us, for those who have hurt us. In those situations, grace and mercy are so unfair that it might make us through a temper tantrum.
Isn’t that the way the older brother sees it? It’s not fair! I’m furious!
Of course, this story was about the Kingdom of God. The Father is God the Father. The younger son is everyone of us who has blown it, stumbled, fallen, sinned, fallen short and needed to surrender it all to the Father.
The older brother is the religious types who had studied Scripture like nobody’s business. They knew what was wrong and what was right. They had it down to the rules. And the rules were preventing them from seeing that there was a better way to live, a way of grace, a chance at a reset. Or, maybe, it’s just that the “insiders” had been insiders for so long that they forgot what it was like to move from lost to found, from death to life.
The more I read this parable, the more I study it and the more I talk about it. I realize that at times, I have been on both sides of that equation.
There are times when I let my anger get in the way of seeing the celebration. I let my hurts, my pains getting in the way of seeing what the Father (God) was doing in the situation.
But I’m also glad to know that like the younger son, I’ve been welcomed home, I’ve been forgiven, I’ve received grace and mercy. And, I have a chance at a true reset.
Does your story need a reset? Maybe it’s time to come back home again.
Are you angry about someone else getting a second chance? Maybe it’s a chance to remember what you have, a chance to reflect on where you came from and a time to celebrate what God is doing.
We reignite our lives when we experience a reset, when our lives are renewed in following Christ and when our stories are redeemed for a Kingom purpose.
Reignite My Story is based on fact that every life story can be reset, renewed and redeemed. For more life lessons, visit www.reignitemystory.com. For more, like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter at@reignitemystory. You may also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.