How The Prodigal Son, The Lost Son,
Is Still Important For Us Today
by Birgit Barandica Eichberger, as to Luke 15,11-32, November 2006
In what does our faith differ from the religions of the world? We often hear that basically, all religions are the same. Concerning religions, this is quite true. In the course of this article you will see the reason why I am discerning here. It is certainly true that certain wisdoms are very similar in the various religions. But wisdoms alone dont produce faith. They might improve our way of dealing with life's issues at the most. You will find true facts everywhere, in every belief or religion. But true facts alone don't produce an absolute truth. They might enhance an I-believe-it's-true-thinking. But believing that something is true does not produce faith.
Maybe certain rituals are similar to each other: people gather together in prayer and worship, almost everywhere you find religious music and songs. There are religious feasts, altars, sacrifices. You might even find an enhanced and desired social behaviour. Yet none of these cause salvation, redemption. And if you keep things on the level described here, then it is justified asking, what you need redemption from. Years ago, although growing up in front of a church background, I had asked this question without getting any satisfying answer whatsoever.
It is said that God is the same everywhere, He only has different names. Yet here, we do see tremendous differences: in the religions, God is very high above and man is very low down. You have to give big efforts in order to be accepted by God, but you will never make it. There is no certainty of salvation in neither religion, not even in the Christian religion. But please, before jumping at my throat now, keep on reading, because I will explain the reason why I am saying this.
According to each religion, God rewards good deeds and behaviors and punishes on the contrary, which in certain cases, you can experience already here on earth. Thus you can find the so-called 'excommunion' in the Roman Catholic church (which bars you from taking the Lord's Supper, called there Holy communion). You see self-mortifications, in which people scourge themselves to bleeding and fainting (also seen in Islam), or on the Philippines, they make themselves get crucified... Sometimes, you will have to reincarnate again and again in order to finally end up in Nirwana, the Big Nothing. Yet this would be of no appeal to me, to re-run life's ordeals again and again in order to end up in a Nothing... it would be utterly frustrating. Or one would end up in a so-called paradise where only men have advantages. Yet for me as a woman, this wouldn't be of any appeal at all either...
Relationship, forgiveness, love... Which religion offers this? Look around - not even one! Not even the Christian religion does, there only theoretically maybe. Yes, really, you have read correctly and I did not misspell! No matter if you look at me now with big eyes asking, "What are you saying here? I thought you stand up for the Christian faith?" Right you are: indeed I stand up for the Christian faith, but not so for a Christian religion. This is indeed a huge difference, religions are always lacking a personal relationship; so they can only be what men have made out of them, regardless of God's word. Religion is the expression of the search for God - but it doesn't have anything at all to do with a personal relationship.
Nobody is born a Christian, nor inherits it, regardless if your parents are Christians. As long as there is no personal aspect in it, it will always remain a mere religion. Only through your personal decision for Jesus, your religion will turn into faith; after all, it is the personal relationship between God and man that makes faith alive. Nowhere else will you see God coming close to approach men.
I will leave it with the simple fact of its existence. I just said that God knew that man has no chance like this. And do you know what He did instead? He came to us to our side of life in His Son Jesus! For He could surmount this abyss. And because He loves us so much, He just did it, although it cost Him everything... Such a great love cannot be found in any other religion! There, God is mostly an abstract being, unreachable, indefinitely far away from us. But the God of the Bibel comes toward you!
Sin comes up God
The God of the Bible - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - this God is completely aware of our human misery. He knew all along that man is stuck on his side of life, without the slightest chance of coming close to God. I have put the graphic of The Bridge here again, hoping you can relate now to what I'm saying. The abyss between God and man is insurmountable, at least on the part of man. This is a fact that the religions are not aware of, and this is why so many people believe that laws, works, self-chastings, etc. bring you close to God's mercy. Religious people can become so grim in this that some of them can easily be called hard, unlovable, intolerent. Religious fanatism is a result from this, just like religious wars are. How this abyss came about, you can read in the just mentioned article on The Bridge. Here,
What exactly happened at Jesus' death on the cross, rather how it happened, is a secret. It does not mean that it is being kept a secret to us, but as it exceeds our understanding so much, it seems like a secret to us. Yet regardless, we know that this death saves our lives if we accept it by faith! To accept it means, taking God's hand that He is reaching out to you in Jesus. This is the way: Jesus! It is a way that clearly shows these three aspects: relationship, forgiveness, love!
One of the most famous parabals that Jesus told, is the one of the prodigal son. For here, this love relationship of God toward man is particularly explicit. I reckon that everybody knows this parabal somehow. So I won't just copy it from the Bible but will work it straight into my text here.
I have to stress out one fact before, though. This parabal is usually known as the "prodigal" son. Well, it is true that he was prodigal. But his prodigality is not really the issue of this parabal. The real issue is his being lost. He left and got lost. And so the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible gives credit to this and does not entitle the parabal The Prodigal Son, but The Lost Son.
What is remarkable about Jesus' parabals is that they are not only explaining certain things - although they do, too - but there is so much more to HIS parabals: they can be applied to everybody, in every situation, at any time! No matter how much times and circumstances might have changed, Jesus' message will never change! It concerns all people alike. I have found some pictures to go with my text as I think they illustrate the message much better :
"As for me, you are dead, I don't want anything at all to do with you anymore."
There once was a very rich man living together with his two sons. One day, the younger one came up to him requesting his share of the inheritance. At that point in history this was a complete scandal, one has to know. We don't know anything about the reason why this son behaved like this, whether it was because of a big fight or just irresponsibility. Nowadays, it can happen at times that an inheritance is being paid out ahead of time, maybe because of tax reasons. Still, it always gives a certain bitter taste. In my own family it had happened many years ago, when a brother of my mom requested his share being paid out, thus causing years long conflicts between the whole family. And in those times, Jesus' story played, this was absolutely unheard of, impossible. Because behaving like this meant,
So you can imagine what this gesture will have caused in the father. In this little picture you can see it well: bewilderedly, he holds his head and doesn't even look at his son, while giving him unresistently what he had requested of him. He simply cannot look into his son's eyes, for the hurting is too much. His other son, also uncomprehending, stands behind his dad trying to talk sense into his brother who apparently isn't interested at all. He takes his share for granted. See his proud posture. And as if it was the most natural thing to do, he takes his share, makes it into money and leaves for another country.
Isn't it evident that I did not find any pictures for the years to come? I guess it means: everybody can well imagine what the Bible tells about the son's life then - no necessity of putting it into pictures. He fornicated; today we would call it having "one-night-stands". He had fun, partied, took drugs, generously paid the piper (meaning he bought friendships). Not only had he taken his dad's money ahead of time, he had also peculated it. And he must have done it so thoroughly that word had preceded him, because at the end of this story it is being referred to, although it was from very far away, people have heard about it anyway.
And then at some point, the money was gone....
As were his so-called friends...
And what about love? Well, as he had only bought it, it exploded like airbulbs each time he started an affaire...
And as it often happens in life: one problem never comes alone. In addition, society there had horrible problems caused by a famine. We don't know whether it was caused by an economical crisis or a natural catastrophe. Fact is the young man had no money left, the "friends" were gone, no shoulder to lean against, he didn't know anybody and nobody knew him, he was an alien and, as I understand things, nobody there suffered as much as he did.
Now what? He tramped around looking desperately for a job. But people were too concerned about themselves - no-one gave him a job. He was an alien, a foreigner. Presumably there were no jobs at all. A situation that is most probably known to many people, too, nowadays... After a long search, somebody made him watch his swines - no pay, of course. But he was allowed to help himself of the swines' food. But hey, not even that worked out, for before he could even pronounce the letter "a", the pigs had eaten all the few they had been given... In addition to all that came the feeling of absolute shame, for he was a Jew and for Jews, swines were unclean. There could have been no worse humiliation...
request his share. He felt like a criminal. "Probably even serves me right," he thought. He knew he had thrown himself out. But he didn't want to die either. It looked like his dad was his only hope. Should he really dare going back, despite all that he had done to his father? Would he ever look at him again, let alone accept him back as his son? "Never mind," he said to himself, "it can't get any worse as it is now." As unpleasant as all of this was to him, he worked up all his courage and resolved to going back, admitting his guilt before his dad and asking him to at least accept him like an employee. And so he set off...
So there he sat without anything left... While he was sitting there, brooding over his situation hurting, he suddenly remembered his dad and life with him. He remembered that even the many employees had more they would need. And he, the son of the great land owner, was sitting here among swines, ragged, manky, starving, far away from home where apparently there was no famine... He became aware of the fact that he had done something totally wrong. Oh man did he feel bad! Remorse came up, for he recognized the mistake, the shame it was to
But what was that? When he finally approached his home, he saw his dad running toward him with his arms opened wide! "This can't be true", he thought. "Father comes running toward me? But he can't possibly recognize me in this distance! Oh man, does this mean he has waited upon me for all these years?" This awareness touched him to the quick.
With the last bit of strength he goes on and before becoming aware...
... his dad pulls him into his arms! He does not at all allow him to get a word in edgewise, he cries and laughs all together! All hurting from all those past years falls off of him. He is full of sympathy for his son who so miserably is laying in his arms.
And he is happy! He's got his son back!
The son has no clue of what is going on, he cannot grasp that he is not being scolded. He is just about to open his mouth asking for forgiveness, yet the total and tangible forgiveness silences him. He is completely confused, yet it takes a load off of his mind - he's totally relieved and happy! All of a sudden, his dad becomes hectic, calls for his servants and asks them to run his son a hot bath. Other servants are asked to look for the best clothings they can find in the house. And then the weirdest thing happens: the father himself gets him a pair of shoes and puts a ring on his finger! As to the customs back then it means: now you are a part of this family again, you are having your domiciliary right back again! Can you imagine how befuddled the son must have felt?
all the rejoicing and music. Amazed, he asked one of the workers who happened to come along from the house, what all the noise was about. He answered, "Just imagine, your brother has come back! And your father is so happy about it that he started organizing a big party right away - he even made the fattened calf slaughter!"
But his dad's joy has not yet come to an end: he has the fattened calf slaughtered! Also this is a sign of greatest esteem, for such a calf is only being slaughtered at a very exceptional situation. Almost dancingly, the father runs through the property, "My son was dead, now he's alive again! He was lost, but now he has found his way back!"
There can't be any bigger joy, can there?
Yet there is one little downer to this story, although not for this younger son, but for the other, the elder brother. Like usual, he had been to the fields drudging for a much longer time than all the others. When he did go home after all, he suddenly began to hear
But instead of also rejoicing, the elder son got completely berserk. Angrily, he threw his work utensils down, ready to turn away, when his father came outside, for he had got aware of this scene despite all the noise (this is also something to think about, isn't it?). Lovingly, he asks his son to come in, yet the man responds in a hot temper, "Look, I worked like a slave for you during all these years, doing everything you asked me of. But you never gave me even a young goat to barbeque with my friends. And now this son of yours returns after blowing your money by fornicating and suchlike, and you simply start a big party and even slaughter the fattened calf!" Now it's "this son of yours"... not my brother....
Whereupon his father tries to soothe him saying, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours! But we had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost, yet now found his way back!"
I could tell you a lot about this son and his behavior. But this would go beyond the scope of this article, for here it is about something completely different. Yet as it belongs to the story in general, I didn't want to draw the curtain over it. Maybe I'm going to write about it at another occasion!
Anyhow, back to the beginning: why did Jesus tell this story in the first place? We always have to take a closer look at things in order to understand well. Jesus was preaching again, many people had come listening, and of course, among them also some Pharisees who got utterly angry at Him, like usual. With this story he wanted to make clear what it really means to come home. He wanted to show how God really is: that is to say, exactly like the father in this story! Isn't it a relief knowing this? If it were for the Pharisees and even for the elder son, then only the big, rich show-offs would get to heaven. But Jesus is saying something totally different here: if you understand in your heart that you are living apart from God and confess it and turn around, just like the younger son in this parabel did, then God is going to accept you just as you are! Hallelujah, isn't that just swell?! No matter what you have done before, how you have lived before, how much you have to answer for. It isn't always the same as with this younger son. Every person is different, having a different story. Nobody expects you to purge or accomplish certain things or show what you are able to - this all does not count before God, at least not in this constellation. What does count though is that you come to Him knowingly, in faith at Jesus' hand. That doesn't seem to be much of a load, does it?
You can come to God just as you are - but God won't leave you the way you are! This is something you have to savour first! Look at this son, ragged, manky, stinking, dispised. I guess, everybody would understand the father if he would have scolded his son, right? Some earthly fathers might have even rejected their son completely after such an experience. But not so the father in this story - God: He pulls His son into His arms, without even wrinkling His nose the slightest bit. He holds him tight and doesn't even think of lice...! Much too big is His love for His son! But He doesn't leave the young man the way he is: He makes him take a bath to cleanse him, re-establish him. He gives him new clothings and even ennobles him by giving him shoes and a ring. This is what God will be doing with you, or with you over there or you here, if you come whole-heartedly to Him!
And coming to God would look something like this - look to your right! Isn't that just fantastic?!! But, as fantastic as this picture looks like, as much love as it radiates, nothing will come close to reality! Jesus Himself says that there will be party in heaven for just one single saved soul (Luke 15:10)! You will be cleansed by His sacrifice. You will be dressed in the white garments of His justice and will be living from then on in eternal fellowship with Him who has created the whole world and you, in His Kingdom where there will be no tears anymore! Listen to God's voice inside of you, who is calling you by your name; He is desperately waiting for you!