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The main emphasis of the parable of the Prodigal Son is that God is a loving Father who doesn’t give up on His children, even when we foolishly reject Him.
The parable of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15:11-32 and begins with a young man insulting his father by asking for his inheritance. In that culture such a request while your father was still alive would be seen as rejection and could even be interpreted as wishing your father was dead.
The father, however, grants his son’s request and the son travels to a foreign country where we are told he ‘wasted his possessions with prodigal living’ (verse 13). A modern equivalent would be going to Las Vegas to spend money on gambling and partying.
The father in the parable, representing God the Father, is utterly heartbroken and grieving over the foolish actions of his child. However, he knows he can’t live the son’s life for him or force him to change his mind.
Eventually all the money was gone and the young man, who symbolises any of us who have at some point determined to go our own way apart from God, is forced to take a job caring for swine in order to feed himself. He had hit rock bottom.
After some time we are told ‘he came to himself’ (verse 17) and decides to return to his father and ask forgiveness. As he approaches his father’s house his father, who has been hoping and praying that he would return, sees him in the distance, “...But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him”(verse 20). The returning son was joyously welcomed back into the family with fanfare and excited celebration.
The primary lesson we should take from this parable is that God is a loving Father who doesn’t give up on His children. Even when we reject Him, His love for us does not falter. He wants us to change our ways and return to Him.
The second lesson of this parable is also one we should take to heart. The other son, who had faithfully stayed at home helping to support the family, had a very different reaction to the return of his brother. He refuses to even acknowledge him, and when speaking about him to his father refers to him as “this son of yours.”
The father gently responds to this attitude by explaining: “... Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (verses 31-32).
This is a powerful lesson for us. No one should act like this other son, ready to cast the first stone at someone we might view as a sinner, but rather we should love them as God loves them and rejoice whenever a person turns to God.
God loves us deeply and forgives us far more than we could ever deserve, and we must learn to also be merciful and forgiving toward others, as Jesus Christ taught again and again throughout the Gospels.
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