One of the most loved of Jesus’ parables is the parable of the lost son. Generally we refer to it as the story of the Prodigal Son. Trying to do the story justice in one column is nearly impossible, but we will try. This may end up being a short series of articles so check your paper each week (and, no, I don’t get royalties for paper sales.)
The story of the lost son actually takes place in context of two other stories of loss: the lost sheep and the lost coin. It seems strange at first that the owner of the lost sheep goes to great lengths to find his wayward sheep. The owner of the lost coin tears the house apart looking for it. But the father of the lost son does absolutely nothing to reclaim his son. Worse, as you read the story in Luke 15, the father actually gave the boy the means to run away. Any psychologist reading this story today would be tempted to label the father as a co-dependant personality — that is, one who enables the destructive behavior of another. After all, this father could have put his foot down, he could have refused to give the boy what he asked for, or when the boy headed out, he could have sent his biggest and strongest servants to grab him and bring him back. He does none of that, which leaves us to wonder, are the sheep and coin more important than a son? Or perhaps the father in this story is dysfunctional?
Actually the father in this story is neither dysfunctional nor co-dependant; he is very wise. The sheep was lost through foolishness, the coin through carelessness but the son was lost through willfulness. This father knew that he could force the boy to stay home either through intimidation (getting some big burly servant to guard him) or through refusal to fund the excursion he knew this boy was about to take. Instead, the father does not argue, nor does he lecture his son about the dangers of a wayward life. Rather chooses to let his son follow his own desires. There comes a time when a boy’s decisions must be respected, even when they lead to his ruin. And so the father hides his pain as he watches his son walk away down the long perilous road.
The boy converts his inheritance into cash and heads out. He’ll need the money when he arrives at his ultimate destination which is as far away from home as he can get. Like many heading down roads to personal destruction, he ignores the warning signs around him; he thinks that once the good life begins it will never end.
I find that attitude in many people today. We seem to have this idea that the bill of our behavior will never come due. The reason so many people get in trouble with credit cards is they think that what they can’t afford today, tomorrow they will be able to afford it. Many do not know how to sacrifice or discipline themselves for long term benefit so immediate gratification clouds their judgment. They think, "Well, I can pay for this next month and enjoy the product today," and the bill keeps going up and up.
Eventually reality hits. The bill does come due — it always does. That is why we are in the mess we are in as a nation today. We made very foolish choices thinking the bill would never come due, but suddenly and without warning (actually there were warnings but we chose to ignore them), the bill is staring us in the face. Stimulus packages may delay the inevitable, but they will not solve the long term problems that got us into the mess in the first place.
Spiritually many play the same game. Sure they know God’s moral laws, but they don’t apply to them; they’ll never have to answer for their behavior, their bill will never come due. But it always does. The boy in our story is about to discover that. He makes many frightfully bad decisions and when the bill comes due, he is faced with another decision. But that we will have to pick up next week.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016 or firstname.lastname@example.org