I would have said no if I were the father. “Absolutely not! Not only does asking for your inheritance show your outright rebellion – which pains me to no end – but I won’t allow my hard-earned money to be blown on what I know will be outright sin.”
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most familiar parables for anyone in church. The obvious life lessons are usually neatly wrapped in the father’s forgiveness and unconditional love for the rebellious son and the older son’s jealousy when the younger son is accepted back into the family as a son. (The full story is in Luke 15:11-32)
But not until recently had I considered the father’s first action: he gave the son his inheritance, knowing full well that the son would squander every last penny on sinful pursuits.
Can we comprehend exactly what the father was doing? He endured his precious son’s rebellion not only against him but also against his family and God. He chose to give his son money that he knew would be used to continue the spiral into sin that would only lead to his undoing. In today’s vernacular, he was enabling him.
Because he knew that sin always has consequences. He knew that the end of the road of rebellion is always rock bottom. He knew that sin would run its course and when his son had nothing else, the father wanted his son to return to him.
What would have happened had the father denied the son his inheritance, as he had every right to do? The son would have rebelled anyway and would have ended up in exactly the same place. But would he have returned to the father? Or would there have been such condemnation that the son would feel like he could never return?
The father, quite simply, wanted to be the one the son came back to when he had nowhere else to go.
This parable isn’t setting a precedent for enabling a person to continue down a destructive path. Instead, it’s setting a precedent for putting relationship over rules, individuals over issues, persons over principles.
The parable of the prodigal son is setting a precedent for putting relationship over rules, individuals over issues, persons over principles.
I can’t say that those I’ve loved who chose a destructive road would feel comfortable returning to me. I fear they would expect judgment and conditional grace. I fear they would not expect me to listen but instead to give them the same spiel they’ve heard all their lives from me and others.
I want to change that. I want to follow the path of Jesus and the loving Father and place the relationship above everything else. I want to say good-bye with a painful hug, a tear in my eye at the pain I know is coming, and an, “I love you; don’t forget that.” And I want to be sitting on the porch, gazing toward the sunset, ready to run when I see the silhouette crest the horizon.
Because as the older son teaches us, we’re all in need of grace.
…But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. –Romans 5:20b-21
**Though the words above are my own, this part of the parable I learned from Hugh Halter’s book Flesh, which I highly recommend.