Many people are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. Most would agree that the point illustrated is that a father has unconditional love for and acceptance of his younger son even after the son has squandered his advanced inheritance on a lavish and immoral lifestyle. The son had gone to his father and basically said that he wished the father was dead, but since he won’t die, please give me what I would get if you had died. But when the money is all gone, the younger son returns to his father, and the father accepts him with open arms and a kiss.
There is a second insight from the parable that I shared in my article What’s Most Important in the Prodigal Son Story? I believe it’s more important that the younger son examined himself and “came to his senses.” The prodigal son moves from foolish and senseless to wise and aware, and from blind and deaf to seeing and hearing. Surely we could all use more wisdom and awareness, and we could all use better sight and hearing skills – more illumination with more understanding.
Along those lines, with recent Cool Hand Luke moments (“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”) in my marriage, and insights from Andy Stanley, I had a third brainstorm related to the prodigal son parable. More importantly, I was able to see the application of the parable a little differently.
When the younger son returned, and the father accepted him and rejoiced and planned a big party to celebrate, the older son was not pleased. The older brother, as well as all the people who were listening to Jesus tell the parable, felt that the younger brother ended up getting what he deserved. Anyone so heartless and demanding should end up homeless with no money. The older brother became angry and refused to go to the party. The father could not understand and pleaded with the older bother, telling him that he was always with the father, and everything that was left was his – all the rest was the older son’s inheritance. The father was not going to divide what was left to give more to the younger son because the younger son had reaped what he had sown.
The key is in the reaction of the father compared to the reaction of the older son. When the father saw his younger son returning, the father “was filled with compassion.” When a servant told the older son about the return of his brother and the party, the older son “became angry.” Here I see the two possible reactions I can chose to have with anyone I have a relationship with, especially my wife – compassion or anger. I find it even easier to choose anger when I exercise my anger by withdrawing. If I don’t raise my voice or yell, my problem obviously isn’t anger, right?
I’ve talked about the fact that I want to be one flesh with my wife, not just physically, but also in communication, finances, parenting, and honesty. The first in my list is communication, and I have explained why I need an Air Traffic Control radar to communicate with my wife. So when I feel my wife has punched me in the gut with an email, or hit me below the belt, can I pause to consciously choose how I will react, and choose compassion? Or will I react with anger, not anger as in yelling or raising my voice, but anger in saying “if you want more x, y, z, you have to give a little to get a little.” Do I chose to keep score of who I think takes the first step more often, or do I do what is right in compassion, making the first move as often as needed?
The father’s reaction to the older son’s anger was to point out “you are always with me.” The father wanted to be with both of his sons, and the older son was always by the father’s side, serving him. But the father wanted to be with his younger son too, and his love and acceptance was unconditional. It did not depend on the behavior or performance of either of the sons, he wanted to be with them and have a quality relationship with both of them, regardless of anything else.
So, I see three lessons for me personally in the parable of the prodigal son:
(1) As a father, I want to love all my children unconditionally and be with them in an intimate sharing relationship, no matter what they have or have not done. And this is the attitude our Heavenly Father has towards all of us.
(2) When I am on a wayward path or being foolish and senseless, I want to come to my senses to see what I need to change and what I have the ability to change, with strength from my Father. I want the same for my wife and my children, but it is not my job to fix someone else.
(3) I want to react with compassion not anger in all my relationships. Jesus said it is important for us to love one another, and that those called disciples of Him would be recognized by how they treated one another.