My favorite Jesus-told parable is the prodigal son — the lost (and found) son. It’s a vivid illustration of the brokenness of man and grace of our Father. It’s the story that influenced my return to God’s arms.
The story in a nutshell.
In the parable, a wealthy man’s youngest son demands an early inheritance. In ancient Jewish culture, that’s tantamount to a son wishing death upon his father. It is a rejection of all the work the father invested in his son’s life as well as thievery of 1/3 of the father’s resources. The expectation would be for the father to beat the son.
But no, the father grants the wish because he has respect for the son’s freedom. In “thanks,” the son squanders the money on fleshly pleasures. The father is a good father, and so he wisely foresees the son will eventually learn his lesson and return.
Eventually, the son does realize his goof-up while fantasizing about eating the pods eaten by pigs — impure animals in a society that held purity as the highest priority. As a feeder of pigs, entering a synagogue for help seemed unrealistic.
So, he turns to his pops, planning to declare, “I am no longer worthy to be your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”
Instead, the father sprinted out (undignified for an old man) to embrace and kiss his beloved son, fitting him with a beautiful robe. The father slips a family signet ring upon his found son’s finger — a restoration of familial authority. Then, he threw him a party.
(The story goes on to detail the bitterness of the older brother.)
The part where I realize my favorite parable was uncomfortably relevant.
I didn’t realize the story’s power until I heard the gasps of Muslim Syrian refugees when they heard the son demanded his inheritance and fed the pigs, or when the father/Father showed extraordinary grace.
(As an honor culture in the biblical lands, they get it. In Jordan, I certainly realized how much I’d neglected the cultural context of the Bible. I’ll discuss that more one day.)
In Jordan, I realized how far I’d plummeted into ingratitude. I’d been blessed with new life through way of miracles and I spent that blessing mostly on ambition and fun for several months. I felt entitled to pure power and euphoria after a childhood of suffering.
I sacrificed little, fell into obvious temptations, and ruined healthy relations through deficient discipline. I was chillin’ with the pigs and denying a beautiful plan God had in store for me. (What does “prodigal” mean? Essentially, wasteful.)
Devastated by these realizations, I prayed something similar to, “I am no longer worthy to be your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” I prayed for a cleansing of my heart and instead received refinement. It was torturous, yet a fast-track to restoration.
God jammed His hand into the soils of my heart and uprooted the corruptive weeds — traumas, unrecognized rage, shame, fears — that had choked His fruits.
Finally, I was humbled. Now that I have the heart of a servant, He has been rebuilding my identity as His son — He slips the signet ring of authority upon my finger and covers my shoulders with a comforting robe. There has been a call to ministry. I don’t yet know the specifics: “Not yet,” goes the reply when I pray for vision.
It’s this call that has reignited my dedication to leaping out of me and into Him. I must prepare.
I am a prodigal son; I am told not to be ashamed that I fell away, but to instead focus on the showered grace. There is the frustration that I will fall into a season of foolishness once again, yet there is also the love found in knowing I’ll be joyfully forgiven seventy times seven.
As I shack up in my Father’s house again, I am discovering and rediscovering the spiritual disciplines that strengthen my joy, prune my branches, and prepare me for ministry. Perhaps the ministry is simply sharing those lessons. Who knows?