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Prodigal Son

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The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a parable taught by Jesus to convey God's unbounded love and forgiveness. The parable illustrates the value of viewing one's own shortcomings objectively and embarking on a path of self-improvement. The turning point is when the son recognizes and admits to himself that he was applying a double standard against his own father.

This parable appears only in the Gospel of Luke. Like all of Jesus' parables, its message transcends language and cultural differences. The parable, set forth at Luke 15:11-32 (NIV), is as follows:[1]

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

Interpretation

The parable has several key elements. The prodigal (wasteful) son does not return until he begins to judge his own conduct and situation objectively.[2] Until that point, he is like others who insist on rejecting God for something far worse than what God routinely provides to everyone, family and worker alike.[3] When the prodigal son does return, his father (God) rushes out to meet him "while he was still a long way off."[4] Finally, God's rejection of his other son's objection shows that God's forgiveness is always available, regardless of inconsistent treatment of those seeking for it.[5] Put another way, it is never too late to ask for forgiveness from God.

References

  1. Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)
  2. Luke 15:13-16 (NIV)
  3. Luke 15:17-20 (NIV)
  4. Luke 15:20 (NIV)
  5. Luke 15:28-32 (NIV)
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