I was challenged recently to think about the story of the Prodigal Son a little differently. I was reading the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, and the author told about asking a group of Americans to retell the story in their own words. The majority retold it without the detail of the famine. When he asked a group in Eastern Europe to do the same, almost every person noted the detail of the famine. It happens that that area had been greatly impacted by a famine years earlier. The author was making the point that our circumstances color how we read scripture. It got me thinking about how I might view the passage differently looking at it in light of that relevant factor. Here’s what struck me. I started to see it in terms of the father’s provision, as well as the father’s forgiveness. The son asked for his inheritance, and the father gave it. Now what parent wouldn’t start to think about what their child has in mind for all that money? Whether we attribute omniscience to this father or not, he suspects what his son has in mind. And he still gives it. No catch, no lecture on how to spend it. He gives.
But the son wasn’t responsible with it, he squandered it on himself, his own desires. Then when famine came, starvation drove him back to his father. Even though he’d blown all his inheritance, all his father’s good gifts, he knew it would be better to have nothing, to be a slave in his father’s house, than to do life on his own terms. He knew by now that it would be better to let someone else decide what he needs. All he wants now is food, and his father gives him a lavish party.
The older son, because he had never gone away, never really realized what he had, he was jealous of the party. He had never experienced starvation, he had all he needed all the time. And took it for granted. He needed to realize what he had and be grateful, grateful that he never knew starvation.
If you want to live life your own way, you will come to the end of yourself, hopefully, by God’s grace, to return to dependence on God. Dependence on both his forgiveness as well as his provision.
For much of my early life I could relate to the older son. I never really rebelled, never dove headlong into sin and at times I could be jealous of others getting lavish blessings, material or spiritual. Later as an adult, I went through a period of intense struggle in my life and I grew in greater dependence on God. And so I identified more with the second son, and his desperate need for the Father. Now, I’m beginning to relate to the father, learning to give all that I have and all that I am to others. To be poured out for His sake, confident there will always be enough. He will take care of me. And you.