“Then He said, ‘A certain man had two sons.’”
— Luke 15:11
Author Charles Dickens, who knew a great tale when he heard it, remarked that the greatest story in all literature was the parable of the Prodigal Son. For the next few days, we’ll examine this story that earned such distinction.
To begin our examination, let’s briefly review the story. You will recall that the parable is about a father and his two sons. The younger son came to his father, asking for his share of his inheritance. The father gave it, and the young man left for a far country and squandered the money he received on wild living (“prodigal” means wasteful). The younger son ended up broke and in dire straits, so he returned to his father in repentance. The father embraced him, rejoiced at his return, and celebrated with a feast. The older brother, who had never left home, was jealous of his father’s attention toward the younger brother. But the father told the older son that they had good cause to celebrate—the Prodigal Son had been dead and now was alive. (For the complete parable, read Luke 15:11–32.)
One theologian has pointed out that Christ is always crucified between two thieves: license and legalism. So it is with these two sons, the younger representing license and the older legalism. These two sons paint a picture of the entire human race, the depiction of two apparently opposite and yet related types of sinners. Both rebel in their own ways, alienating themselves from their father. Yet the father loves them both with a love beyond comprehension.
This rich parable teaches many deep truths, but the greatest of these is the love of the Father, who welcomes home those who have fallen into all kinds of sin. Whether we live wildly or we self-righteously judge those who do, the Father loves us and welcomes us home as His children.