The story of the prodigal son is one of my favorite parables. I love how Jesus provides the example of the father’s immense generosity, compassion and mercy to teach us about who God really is.
By Isaac Arellano
29 March 2019
As we read the story, the character of the Father is striking, specifically how giving and generous he is. Without hesitation, he gives his younger son his inheritance and, after the younger son’s return, he runs out to plead with the older son to remind him that all he has is always available to him.
Now, we often focus on the father’s mercy, which is without doubt a great lesson from this story, but the Father’s generosity is equally perplexing. To begin, the younger son asked for his inheritance, presumably half of the father’s belongings! And the father responds by giving it to him without hesitation! This makes me think, how much does the father own? Are his riches really that great?
In fact, as we read further in the story, the younger son remembers his father’s land only after “nobody gave him anything.” The stark contrast between the selfish foreign land and the generous land of the father is described so vividly that it can’t be accidental. Jesus wants to paint a picture of just how much God the Father has to give so we never doubt how much mercy he has for us. So, we can’t possibly rationalize that God’s mercy somehow takes away from his power.
Just like the two lands, the two brothers are characters that are striking because of how separated and different they are. On the surface, one brother is disrespectful, impulsive, and sinful while the older one is hard-working, obedient, and rational. Both are relatable because of these surface characteristics. We make mistakes out of selfishness and we become green with envy when we feel wronged. Yet, deeper more relatable characteristics come out of the brothers when we remember the father’s generosity.
I always wondered why the older brother chose to highlight his lack of gifts because the father reassures him that he has everything the father has. My response was always, well did you ask? He probably didn’t and it never occurred to me that there was a reason why he didn’t ask. At least not until I asked the opposite of the younger son: Why did he ask? He asked because he knew the father. The generosity that the father had was something the younger son was familiar with. He is like a child that asks for toys and the father lovingly gives him what he asks for.
The younger son was never afraid to ask, not even after he had wasted all of his inheritance. The greater chasm between the older son and the younger son is knowledge of the father’s generosity. The older son, though apparently better, was painfully hardened to the father’s generosity. He believed that the father wouldn’t even share a young goat with him while the younger son foolishly asked for everything.
Even though it seems irrational, I don’t think that the father gave away half of his belongings without good reason. I think the father gave away his inheritance because he knew his son and his son was more valuable than everything he owned. Isn’t it odd that the father was waiting, looking for his son to come back? It’s like he knew his son would come back. I believe he was comfortable letting his younger son leave with half of his belongings because he had faith in the son’s fearless asking. He expected the son to remember the generous land he came from and he had faith that his son would think to ask again.
This lent I think we have to remember both sons. The older son so we don’t become bitter with God as we work for the kingdom of God and the younger son so we do remember we are not at home in this foreign land away from heaven. Most importantly, I think we need to remember the Father’s generosity. After all that’s where we are heading, towards the gift we never even thought to ask for. The greatest gift, his beloved son.