The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably one you are all very familiar with. You’ve read it again and again. You’ve heard many sermons on the parable. You’ve probably read devotions based on the story. You’ve probably studied it in Bible study or Sunday school many times.
The story of the Prodigal Son may not be a true story. It is one of Jesus’ parables about losing something of great value. In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells 3 parables.
The Bible says tax collectors and sinners, the unrighteous, were gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the righteous, say among themselves that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. This was obviously a judgment by the righteous for Jesus welcoming the unrighteous.
The 3 parables that Jesus tells are the parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. In each of these parables, something of great value is lost. In each parable, the person who lost either a coin or a sheep or a son grieves the loss, does everything they can to find it, and rejoices when it is found.
These parables were meant to teach the righteous about God’s value of the lost sinner and the lengths God will go to in order to get the lost back. The stories teach that while God values what remains; God does not easily let go of what is lost. These are stories of grace whereby God values the lost and seeks out the lost until it has been found. The stories may remind you of the lyric from the familiar hymn “Amazing Grace”. “I once was lost, but now am found.”
In the number of sermons about the parable of the lost son, better known as the Prodigal son, you’ve probably heard that God is the father of the sons. The youngest son took his share of his father’s estate and set out to squander it living wildly. The son is believed to be a sinner who scoffs at God’s abundance and tries to live apart from God’s grace. But, when he has found that he is nothing apart from God, he returns to grovel at his father’s feet and repent of his sin. Yet, his father celebrates his return and restores him to full grace within the family. This sermon would focus on God’s forgiveness of a repentant sinner without judgment or punishment.
You might have heard a sermon about the eldest son. This sermon might focus on what it means to remain faithful to God and what it means to be a part of the family of God. One could even preach about how the eldest son acted self-righteously when the repentant son returned. So, too, the eldest son needed to repent of self-righteousness. Focus on the eldest son is less common than the younger son.
I’d like to offer something different. Let’s look at the story from the point of view of the mother. She is not mentioned in the story so I will take some liberty in imagining her part in the parable.
As is often the case, the woman is not mentioned much less given a name. It’s no matter because the sons and the father were not given names. Names aren’t important in a parable, because it is a teaching not a story. So, I’ll just refer to her as mother.
The mother likely had no say in the family affairs, especially once the kids were old enough to work on the father’s farm. Mother had raised the boys, watched them grow up, and take their place on their father’s farm. Mother likely worked hard on the farm, as hard as the other family members and the servants. She was likely treated as a servant compared to her boys.
When the time came that the youngest son asked for his inheritance, mother may have told her husband what she thought, but wouldn’t have mattered. She might have asked the father to not let him go and not give him his part of the estate. She may have even pleaded with her son to stay. The son only cared about his father’s blessing as he left. Mother may have prepared him some bread and a wineskin for his journey.
I’m sure she grieved her son’s leaving as much as the father did. I’m sure she cried her eyes out many nights wishing he’d come home. She could do nothing and say nothing to get him back.
Mother probably hugged her eldest son a little tighter each time, cherished the eldest son even more. The eldest son probably got extra attention when the baby had left. The eldest son was probably praised for his faithfulness to his father and for his hard work.
And, some years later, mother probably ran out alongside the father to greet her son. I imagine she might have tried to push the father out of the way to hug and kiss her son. I’m sure she cried tears of joy. Not for one moment had she stopped loving him.
She had no say in his going. She had no say in how he would be redeemed. I’m sure mother was relieved that the father welcomed the youngest son home with open arms.
I will say that God is the father. The eldest son is the believers faithful to the father. The youngest son are all those who wander away and eventually return home. I think mother is the church.
The church grieves the loss of young adults. I don’t know how many times I have heard people in the church grieve the kids that left the church after high school or college and never returned. The church wonders how so many young adults grew up in the church but have turned away. There are countless books and curriculum and evangelism programs that seek to give churches the tools that might attract young adults to come back to the church.
It is difficult for the church to understand how being in worship on Sunday morning is not a priority to many young adults. We blame sporting events encroaching on Sundays. We say that Sunday is the only time for kids to rest. We want to believe that if the kids just weren’t as busy then the parents would make time to bring the family to church.
Another aspect of the loss of young adults is that they were never here to begin with. Many young adults were raised with no attachment to youth group, Sunday school, or worship. They didn’t leave. There were never here. They don’t make Sunday morning church a priority because they don’t know Jesus.
And, the church clings to the young adults who have remained faithful to the church. Many are glad to see them come every Sunday and glad to have them carry on the traditions and work of the church. Their kids are seen as a hope for the future of the church. They’re praised for faithfully bringing the family to church week in and week out.
I’d like to say there is another group, perhaps a middle child of the family of God. These are the young adults that are part of the church and faithful followers of Jesus Christ, but we don’t see them as often. I think we over look our middle children. They go unnoticed between grieving the lost son and praising the eldest son. We may even judge them for not coming every Sunday.
The lost, the unnoticed, and the praised are all sons of God. They are all valued by God. God seeks them all, loves them all. They are all worthy of the riches of the kingdom of God. God gives them all work in the kingdom and the inheritance of eternal life. No one is more valuable than the other. God keeps the family together yet goes to seek the lost and welcome them home.
If God loves them all, we, the church, we need to value the lost, the unnoticed, and the praised equally as any mother would. We can’t cherish those who come week in and week out more than the ones we see only every Easter. God loves them each unconditionally and we should too. We can’t love any more or less based on their attendance.
I think the Care Teams that the Elders and Deacons have established will make a good effort at reaching out to all of our family. I hope that the shepherding work of the Elders and Deacons will show our members, regardless of their connection to the church, that they are all valued members of this family. I hope that all of us, come Easter when our pews are full, can make known that we are glad for all who come and happy that they are our family.
May God forgive us the sin of valuing some more than others.