Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
15. 11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
TECHNOLOGY has almost killed the art of getting lost. Almost all of us have a map of the whole world in minute detail sitting in our pocket. Our phones set our path to home and this passage is all about home, journeys away and how we find our way back.
Where is home for you? We travel more than ever, have seen more cities, met more people. We are always on the move, always learning, going, absorbing, it is the rhythm of our life, and it is hectic. Where is home through all those experiences? Wherever you go in the world, where is the place that you know has happy hormones coming through the floorboards, where you can rest, where you are known, loved, and safe? Where is the place your heart returns to easily, without the need to switch on your GPS?
The son in this passage takes his inheritance, leaves his Father’s house and goes in search of fulfilment. Henri Nouwen wrote,“leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one,” and “leaving home is looking for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”
The son looks for it in all the usual things we use to escape from ourselves, that distract us from aligning ourselves with who we truly are; okay parties, average friendships, relationships that have no future.
The other son also has not made peace with himself and with the Father. He is lost, in his own back garden, resentment holding him back from knowing where he was and who he has always been.
Unconditional love hits hard in this passage. No one’s core identity changes throughout the story, just the fear, regret and bitterness that held them back from being in harmony with it. Home was always home. The son was always the son, always loved, at the parties, and at the pig farm. The older son was always just as loved; but caught on his own home territory in a web of bitterness. The Father was always the Father, waiting.
Nouwen went on to write that “home is the centre of my being, where I can hear the voice that says, ‘You are my beloved. On you my favour rests’”. There is a tangible sense of relief when you feel the embrace of the Father as he takes his son home.
“Return to your rest, my soul, because the Lord has been good to you.”
Today is a good day to go home. Repentance is the movement, the 180 degree turn towards home; it realigns our posture to where our soul finds rest, where the Father is always waiting. Your identity has never changed, you have been given a spirit of sonship, and by it we cry ‘Abba Father’.
15:15 - While pigs and pork are not problematic for Christians in the twenty- first century, the Torah prohibitions against eating pork and touching pig carcasses would have made Jesus’ audience cringe in discomfort at the idea of the younger son feeding pigs and tending to them.
15:20 - Running would have been considered undignified for a wealthy landowner in Jesus’ time. The act of running to embrace his son shows his lack of concern for how he would be perceived in comparison to his desire to embrace his son and welcome him home.
15:22 - The sandals, ring and robe that the father gives the son were all symbols of being a son rather than a servant. These gifts are a refuting of the son’s request to redefine their relationship on his return, and a visual representation of his redemption.
Which character in the story do you most identify with?
Do you ever feel “still a long way off?”
Where and who is home for you? Imagine the place that is most home for you. What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it feel like to be called home?
What is God calling you home to? What is he saying?
Is there a lie about God, or about yourself, that is keeping you from coming home?
Take a few minutes in silence to ask yourself two questions:
When I pray, do I pray like a child of God or like a servant?
When I pray, do I pray like someone who is at home or some who is still far off?
Spend some time praying for each other based on your answers to the discussion questions.
Conclude by praying together:
Father, thank you that you are always waiting;
you see us when we are still a long way off.
Thank you that you call us your children and you love us. Thank you for that unconditional love
that gives us our true immovable home.
Let us return to it, live in it, and be at rest there. Amen.
Emily is currently working part-time as a youth worker in Kilkenny, having just completed her Masters in Community and Youth Work. She is passionate about tag rugby, proper conversations, dancing, poetry, public transport as a lifestyle choice and seeing people and ideas come together.