Through the Eyes of the Prodigal

02 Jul
from Google Images

from Google Images

Growing up in a family of eight can be likened to the trickle down economy of Reaganomics in 1980s America.[1] While it didn’t mean my younger brothers didn’t receive anything new, hand-me-downs stocked the closets and the dressers. Probably what was worst of all for my younger brothers and sisters was that I made the reputation for them at school, and for good or for bad, they were judged by what I had done. It is difficult to make one’s way out of the shadows of those who have gone before us. Blazing new trails and being judged on one’s own merits can be a long and hard journey.

It was probably much worse for a child born during the 1st century CE, if he was not the firstborn son. Looking at how the younger son fared in the parable of the Prodigal Son, no doubt, seems a lot more understandable through the eyes of the younger children. The firstborn usually is given a lot more responsibility in the family and those younger must listen to him. The problem is, at least as much I can derive from growing up in that position, the firstborn is still a child and things don’t really seem very fair for the others. This was especially so in my case where the authority went to my head, and I acted like a know-it-all, not to mention a tyrant when my parents weren’t aware.

With this in mind Jesus’ words concerning exercising authority over one another in Luke 22:26 seem a lot clearer to me: “let the greatest among you be as the younger, and the leader be like him who serves” (Weymouth). Things would have been a lot different for my younger brothers and sisters, if I had put myself in their shoes, before I carried out my parents’ wishes. Moreover, I have little doubt that I wouldn’t have abused that authority by implementing a few of my own wishes as well. Life viewed through the eyes of the one who serves is definitely a lot different from life lived at the top of the ladder. According to Jesus, authority should be exercised as though no authority existed, and come to think of it, this seems to be like how God has exercised his authority over us. We pretty much get to do as we please, but God became as we are (John 1:14), and brought us to himself, not by exercising his great power over us, but through the fellowship of his Holy Spirit. Jesus is the King, but he came to us as one who serves (Luke 22:27). He not only humbled himself under his Father’s authority, but also under the legal authority of God’s servants, the priests, who had him killed.

The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is so different from the traditional life of the 1st century CE. Some things reflect that time; certainly, the lower position of the younger son and the responsibility shouldered by the eldest son reflect that time, but notice how Jesus puts it to reflect his message about authority in Luke 22. The younger son didn’t see any future for himself in the shadow of his older brother, and having the elder lord it over the younger once their father had passed on was probably too much to think about. Therefore, he asked his father for what was to be his, and he went off to live life and blaze his own trail. The problem was: he didn’t fare any better on his own than how life looked to him under the thumb of his brother.

Once he returned to his father, he was surprised with how he was received—really good news! Not only so, but his father acted so out of character for someone of his position in Jewish tradition. In the parable the father lifted up his skirts and ran to his repentant younger son (Luke 15:20). The idea of his running not only speaks of his love for his son, but his great longing for his son to return. It should have been the son who ran rather than the father. With this picture Jesus suggests our Father’s love for us and his eagerness to quickly embrace our return to him—again, really good news!

Finally, the indignation of the firstborn became so apparent, when he returned from his responsibilities to find that his rebellious and irresponsible brother had come home. His resentment stemmed from the fact that the younger brother was so well received by their father. No doubt the firstborn would have embraced the idea of receiving his younger brother back under the terms of Luke 15:19, if for no other reason than to be able to lord-it-over his rebellious brother as though he were a servant. Nevertheless, the firstborn was outraged that his father didn’t seem to care how he had been treated by his youngest son. Moreover, the firstborn considered his father’s treatment of him unfair, in the light of the celebration made for his rebellious brother’s return (Luke 15:25-30). Where is the respect for authority in all this?

Nevertheless, his father came to his eldest son as well (Luke 15:28), saying that all his wealth belonged to the firstborn, but his wealth (authority) should be spent out of love and concern for his brother (Luke 15:31-32). Our Father’s wealth cannot be enjoyed by those who make a life for themselves apart from him (Luke 15:13), neither can it be enjoyed by those of us who consider ourselves faithful, but view ourselves as servants (Luke 15:29). Family is important, and our Father embraces us as his children. Until we understand this, we cannot enjoy all he has given us, but, when we do, it is like a homecoming celebration for the rebellious son and a great bar-mitzvah or adoption ceremony for the son coming of age—and this is really good news!


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about the person of Jesus is based upon the book: The Jesus Style by Gayle Erwin. They are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Gayle wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read about Jesus.

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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Kingdom of God


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