The Prodigal Son


     The illustration of the prodigal son is fraught with meaning. So as to have the picture in mind this paper will briefly review the story, which is of a man who had two sons. The younger one asked his father for his share of the property. This was granted, and the young man then took all his belongings and went off to a far country, where he squandered all he had in a life of debauchery. Famine hit the country, and in desperate need he got a job herding swine, but was not allowed even to eat their fodder.

In sore plight, he came to his senses and decided to return home. He would acknowledge his sinful course and ask to be taken on, not as a son, but as a hired servant.

His father, however, seeing his son when far off, ran to meet him and gave him a heartwarming welcome. He was quickly fitted out with the best robe, sandals and a fine ring, followed by a feast with music and dancing.

But the older son, on approaching the house and being told what was happening, was furious and would not join in. His father entreated him, but he only argued back. The father again explained his course of action in a most kindly and appealing way. There the story abruptly ends, leaving it open as to the older son’s final reaction. (Luke 15: 11-32)

     True, this biblical illustration has long been acknowledged and used by several speakers in presenting the truths about human life.

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The idealism of humans being connected with a supreme being is the primary focus of the illustration as noted in the Bible.  The understanding given to the context of the illustration shall indeed help people realize their situation and thus be able to reconnect with the supreme God who is willing to help them survive the challenges of living. Although the illustration is rather long, many speakers and inspirational mentors find it easier to use to be able to bring out the different points related with the facts about human choices and consequences.

     What did Jesus Christ particularly have in mind as he narrated this particular illustration to his listeners? Most likely, he wanted to show them the impact of their decisions in their lives and what God himself particularly feels about this.

The idea is to awaken the sense of his listeners in realizing the fact that God is affected by every decision that they make as his followers. With the kind of life that Jesus Christ lives, it is noticeable that he met with sinners, tax collectors and other individuals of different walks of life who have been deciding mistakably with their lives during those times. Through this perception, Christ understood that these people needed guidance and the sense of realization that they are being given the importance that they are due as individuals wanting to follow the right path of living.

The Impact of Illustration in the Cycle of the Human Life

     How beautifully Jesus described the forgiving disposition of his heavenly Father! To think that the great Creator of the universe would accept a repentant sinner in such a sympathetic, tender manner! Yet Jesus, who knew the Father best, showed by this touching illustration that that is exactly how the Father treats those who have a change of heart and come “home” to serve him. But this conception of God as a Father who is ready to forgive was not new. Similarly, there were many in the first century from among God’s people of Israel that had forsaken their heavenly Father and were pursuing a wicked course.

However, when they heard the Kingdom message preached by John the Baptist and Jesus it shocked them to their senses. They felt sorry for their sinful ways, and, like the prodigal son, they returned to volunteer as slaves of God. Because of their lowly spirit and genuine repentance Jesus warmly welcomed them, even as he illustrated that his heavenly Father had done in a spiritual way. They became Jesus’ disciples and were sent out by him to preach concerning the kingdom of God.

     Since all have sinned, all can benefit from the humility and contriteness of heart demonstrated by the prodigal son. Not only did he feel sorry for his sins, but he proved his repentance by confessing his wrongdoing and requesting to be allowed to serve his father. If you want the favor and forgiveness of the heavenly Father you must do the same. Do not hold back! Do not let a feeling of unworthiness prevent you from turning to God to serve Him.

The Youth and the Impact of Illustration in their Lives

     Some rebellious youths today have likewise been shocked into reality. Reaping the grim aftermath of fast living—jail, serious injury, sexually transmitted disease—can be a sobering experience indeed. The words of Proverbs 1:32 finally hit home: “The renegading of the inexperienced ones is what will kill them.” When the prodigal son finally faced the truth, he made a courageous decision—to go home and straighten out his life! But how would his father react after having been hurt and betrayed by his son? The account answers: “While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him.” Yes, before the youth could make his carefully rehearsed confession, his father took the initiative to express love and forgiveness!

     Usually youths are faced with the challenges of making reasonable decisions in their lives. At times, because of being inexperienced they tend to fail in terms of judging the possible consequences of their present acts. At most, because of these misjudgments, youths tend to affect not only their own lives but also the lives of the people living around then. Without their knowledge, they are hurting their parents and all others who are close to them because of the path of the decisions that they particularly take into consideration as they face their own adventure in living. Of course, setting things straight with God is only a beginning.

Just as the prodigal son apologized to his father, erring youths should try to make amends with their parents. A sincere apology can go a long way in easing some of the pain they have suffered and in securing their support. A youth who wants to please God needs to ‘keep making straight paths for his feet.’ (Hebrews 12:13) This may mean his changing his life-style, habits, and associates. (Psalm 25:9; Proverbs 9:6) Establishing a routine of personal study is also important. Returning to what is right might nor be that easy to accomplish. However with conscientious approach, those who really want to change would naturally be able to attain what they particularly want to reach in terms of returning back to the path of righteousness.

On Religious Matters

     Jesus concludes his story with the father’s appeal to his older son: “Child, you have always been with me, and all the things that are mine are yours; but we just had to enjoy ourselves and rejoice, because this your brother was dead and came to life, and he was lost and was found.” Jesus thus leaves unresolved what the older son eventually does. Indeed, later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, “a great crowd of priests began to be obedient to the faith,” possibly including some of these of the “older son” class to whom Jesus is here speaking.

In modern times, the implication of the illustration preferably refers to those individuals who have naturally noted that they were with God or they are doing things accordingly to the principles of the supreme one. Yet although they say this, it could be noted through their acts that they are doing otherwise. Moreover, they tend to mock the realities of rightful worship of God. Sadly, as blinded as these individuals are, they also become highly indifferent with the ways by which they are shown the right path that they are supposed to follow. Some scribes and Pharisees may have felt that they were being compared to the older son, in contrast with sinners who were like the younger son. Did they, though, grasp the key point of the illustration, and do we?

It highlights an outstanding attribute of our merciful heavenly Father, his willingness to forgive on the basis of a sinner’s heartfelt repentance and conversion. It should have moved listeners to respond with joy at the redemption of repentant sinners. That is how God views matters and how he acts, and those imitating him do likewise.

Clearly, justice marks all of God’s ways, so those who want to imitate God treasure and pursue justice. Still, God is not motivated by mere abstract or rigid justice. His mercy and love are great. He shows this by a willingness to forgive based on genuine repentance. It is fitting, then, that Paul linked our being forgiving with our imitating God: “[Be] freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you. Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.

Yes, everyone trying to imitate the principles of living that God himself has set as guidelines to the human individuals are able to change their ways freely in accordance to that particular path that God himself accepts to be rightful. With the application of rightful repentance on the process of recovering from past mistakes, God’s assistance could be well assured on the part of those wanting the change.

What About the Older Son?

     Obviously, compassion was given to the prodigal son upon his return. What did the older son feel about this? Apparently, he did not rejoice. A feeling of self-pity filled him and questions about the love that his father has given him had clouded his mind. From this particular illustration, it could be noted that people tend to expect upon being able to follow what is right. Sadly, because of this particular thought, most humans fail to recognize that they have always been appreciated by those people whom they ought to please. The regularity of the matter makes it hard for them to realize that they too are given importance.

     In the story, this particular scene could be notably obvious:

 In the meantime, the father’s “older son was in the field.” See if you can identify whom he represents by listening to the rest of the story. Jesus says of the older son: “As he came and got near the house he heard a music concert and dancing. So he called one of the servants to him and inquired what these things meant. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father slaughtered the fattened young bull, because he got him back in good health.’

But he became wrathful and was unwilling to go in. Then his father came out and began to entreat him. In reply he said to his father, ‘Here it is so many years I have slaved for you and never once did I transgress your commandment, and yet to me you never once gave a kid for me to enjoy myself with my friends. But as soon as this your son who ate up your means of living with harlots arrived, you slaughtered the fattened young bull for him.’”

     During the earlier times, THE Pharisees have criticized Jesus for keeping company with known sinners, and in answer he has just finished relating illustrations about regaining a lost sheep and a lost drachma coin. He continues now with another illustration, this one about a loving father and his treatment of his two sons, each of whom has serious faults. Today, it is undeniably noticeable that there are those individuals who are critically endowed in noting other’s mistakes.

At times, instead of seeing the appreciation that they are receiving from those people whom they are serving or from those people that they love, they see the idea of being mistreated through seeing what is being done or how others are being treated at their expense. Because of this, the thoughts of being unfair become eminent in the process of human development. With this in mind, it could be noted that there are those individuals who are less able to take notice of the good things that they are able to enjoy just because of envy.

Critique of the Illustration

With heartrending vividness Jesus shows in the parable of the prodigal son (1) why a person would drift away, (2) what can happen while away, (3) what it takes to return, and (4) the welcoming attitude of God. The two sons in the parable may be compared to people who, like anyone else, have come to know the Father, enjoyed the ‘abundance of spiritual bread’ in the household of faith and dedicated their lives to God’s service.

There are various reasons why some, like the younger son, leave the “home” of the heavenly Father. Often it is simply the increasing burden of the “anxieties of life.” (Luke 21:34) Occasionally the influence of bad associates has hindered some from “keeping on obeying the truth.” (Galatians 5:7, 8, 10, 12)

Hard feelings over a doctrinal matter may have caused a number to go “off to the things behind.” (John 6:60-66) Basically, some either consciously or subconsciously have considered the environment in God’s spiritual household to be too confining. These ones, like the prodigal, no longer want to be under the watchful eye of the Father. They seek ease of movement in a “distant country” or a distant area that is considerably away from the principles of Godly ways of living.


Many who tend to rest and refuse to take the necessary steps in living a Godly way of life do not drift back into a “debauched life” as did the prodigal of Jesus’ parable. Still all become aware of the separation from a close relationship with God. They know they have sinned however, because of self-resentment, they intend to feel like as if their wanting of being forgiven is not worthy enough of being considered by God himself. The prodigal son said: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son,” is how the prodigal felt after he “came to his senses.” Others have felt the same way—unworthy of being called one of God’s family.—Luke 15:17-19.

Is this assumption true? Did the father, who knew that his son’s sins were great, view them as unforgivable? Was he cold and indifferent when the boy reappeared? Not at all! He had been looking for his son. The father ran to embrace his son. The most the son had hoped for was to become a ‘hired man,’ someone really not a member of the household and in some respects worse off than a slave.

Never could he have imagined his father’s response: “Quick! Bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves.” How wonderfully Jesus illustrated the wholehearted response of the father!—Luke 15:22, 23.

The father knew that the prodigal had already paid a dear price—the emotional scars of “living a debauched life” and losing all his money, the agony of being friendless and without food and shelter during a famine, the shame of eating with pigs, and finally, the long journey home. So, too, God realizes that one truly suffers while “lost” and that it is not easy to return. Yet our compassionate heavenly Father, who is “abundant in loving-kindness,” ‘will not for all time keep finding fault nor according to our errors bring upon us what we deserve’ if we are genuinely repentant and “set matters straight” with him.


  1. NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. (1984). International Association of Bible Students.
  2. ”Sixty-Second Stewardship Sermons” by Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr. (October 23, 2007).
  3. Ernest Valea. (2007). The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Christianity and Buddhism. (October 23, 2007).
  4. Henri J. M. Nouwen. (1994). Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. Image Books / Doubleday Publishing Group.
  5. Jill Robbins. (1991). Prodigal Son/Elder Brother: Interpretation and Alterity in Augustine, Petrarch, Kafka, Levinas (Religion and Postmodernism Series). University Of Chicago Press.
  6. Lee & Steven Hager. (2006). Quantum Prodigal Son: Revisiting Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Perspective of Quantum Mechanics. Oroborus Books.
  7. Kenneth E. Bailey. (2003). Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story. InterVarsity Press.
  8. Robert Branner. (1996). Chartres Cathedral: Illustrations, Introductory Essay, Documents, Analysis, Criticism (Norton Critical Studies in Art History). W. W. Norton & Company; 2Rev Ed edition.
  9. Gregory Jones. (1995). Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  10. Michigan Historical Reprint Series. (2005). A compendious introduction to the study of the Bible, being an analysis of An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, the same author. By THomas Hartwell Horne. Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library.


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The Prodigal Son. (2017, Mar 25). Retrieved from

The Prodigal Son
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