Written By Johanna Loh, originally for Walk The Same
The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) is a familiar one. Its three main characters could be the stars of a TV series: The rich patriarch, his elder son, and his youngest—the wild child.
We know how it goes: The wild child takes off with his plentiful inheritance to enjoy life. He leaves big brother behind to run the family business with dad. After wasting all his money, the wild child is left penniless and starving. He decides to make his way home, and instead of receiving reproach, he receives a warm welcome from dad. But big brother is left fuming, because his useless younger sibling doesn’t get the thrashing he deserves.
As the eldest child, I must admit I had trouble connecting with the story for a long time. My sympathies lay with the elder son, who had worked so hard yet never seem to have received anything from his father. There was no commendation, no fun parties held in his honor. The younger child who wasted his inheritance, on the other hand, was treated like a celebrity.
Then, one day, it hit me that the story was in fact, all about the father. And two lessons, one about grace and the other about identity, stood out like they never had before. First, grace is a gift given without restraint. Second, we can only understand our true identity upon knowing our heavenly Father.
The father in the story shows immense grace to his two sons. There was no doubt that he cared for them. It must have caused him great grief to let his younger son go, not knowing if he would ever see his child again. He didn’t even protest, considering that requesting for one’s inheritance at the time was as good as wishing one’s father dead. Yet, the Bible tells of the father running to his son and being filled with compassion for him when he returns.
The father had never given up on his younger son, but had waited every day hoping for his return. He had every right to be angry, yet his reaction was the complete opposite: He extended lavish grace instead.
Grace was given to the older son too. Although it seemed that he was being unappreciated by his father, his father was clear in stating that everything he had belonged to his son.
Aren’t we sometimes like the elder son? Maybe we already have everything, but we don’t know how much we have.We are so focused on slaving away for our Father, that we miss out on having a relationship with Him. We forget how to receive and give grace, and end up becoming bitter and legalistic. Insecurity and a skewed sense of self-worth sets in because we think we have to achieve more to be more, and we forget how much we are loved by our Heavenly Father. We need to constantly remember the value God places on us as his treasured children.
As for the prodigal son, we see how his father restored his position and privileges when he returned. This shows us how our identities are established in God our Father. Once He has called us His children, nothing can separate us from Him. Even when we make bad choices and mess up our lives, God is there to work through our mess with us. All we need to do is ask. It is never too difficult or too late. Our hearts just need to be open to Him. And just like the father in the story, our Heavenly Father comes running to meet us with outstretched arms. Joy is written in His smile when we humble ourselves and choose to rely on Him completely.
It could take us a lifetime or more to fully understand just how much God loves us and treasures us as His sons and daughters. Paul says in Ephesians 3:18-19, “may [you] have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” May we all truly know the extent of grace we have received through God’s love, and allow that to define who we are.
This version has been edited by YMI.