Thursday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Luke 15:11-32

The Prodigal Son: What It Doesn’t Mean

I want to spend an extra day with this parable because, as wonderful as it is, painting such a beautiful portrait of a son’s repentance and his father’s forgiveness, yet I am also aware that it has been a source of agonizing questions for heartbroken parents who have wayward adult children.  And I didn’t think it right to ignore what I know are real issues.  Yes, it is a beautiful story – when it goes the way Jesus painted, as it should.

But man’s disobedience is such that it often does not go this way.  So let us begin with some standards of interpretation, especially as this applies to Jesus’ parables.  A parable in the Bible is a story told to illustrate a spiritual truth.  In this case, the spiritual truth we are to consider is the need for repentance and the obligation to forgive the one who repents.  After all, God forgives us.  The story only serves that purpose.  In other words, if your son comes to you and wants you to give him his inheritance right away, and even has the cheek to use this parable as his justification for asking, feel free to kick him in the seat of the pants.  That is not the purpose of this parable.  The characters are simply actors in a play; Jesus could have illustrated the same point using a different story with different characters.

But I also know of aging parents with an adult child who, well, never grew up.  They are constantly having to pay his bills, always having to bail him out of some self-inflicted jam.  Often there are grandchildren involved so they feel compelled; they can’t let the kids go hungry.  The wayward adult child may even slyly use the kids as bargaining chips (“Oh, I don’t think you will be able to take them to church this week”).  These poor parents read this parable and are stricken.  They know that they are only enabling their son (or daughter) to become ever more dependent.  “Yet, am I not supposed to be like this father?  After all, he gave the son his inheritance!”  And siblings grow cold towards their deadbeat brother.

Well, I don’t think that this parable teaches that parents are to allow themselves to be taken advantage of in this way.  If anything, the parents should tie any further aid to some measurable goal, to help the adult child become responsible, and hopefully repent.  Proverbs 19:19 tells us: “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.”  I think that applies here.  But siblings must still pray for their wayward brother, as their heartbroken parents do.  A parent naturally measures him or herself by their worst child.  Comfort them.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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