It’s not hard to understand how a parent’s love for a prodigal child can be a kingdom parable because that’s the point of the most famous parable Jesus ever told. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man with two sons. One requests his inheritance early, leaves home, and lives like there’s no tomorrow.
The Prodigal Son
Susan remembers her firstborn son Martin as a delightful little boy. He was tenderhearted and funny, and he loved his little sister. When Martin was nine, his dad left. While Susan knows this deeply wounded her son, he never talked about it much or acknowledged it bothered him. Martin continued to be a good kid and a good student into his teen years. He went off to college and was accepted to law school. Susan noticed he seemed to be struggling a bit in his senior year of college, but she told herself not to worry.
During Martin’s first semester of graduate school, his life started to fall apart. Susan found marijuana in his room. While the discovery was devastating, she told herself, “Now I’ve caught him, and he’ll quit.” Martin didn’t quit, and he had to drop out of graduate school. He spiraled down as drug addiction gripped him and became the driving force of his life.
Susan was devastated. She couldn’t understand why this was happening to her precious son. She questioned why other parents’ children turned out fine. This wasn’t supposed to happen to her family! The pain of watching her son destroy himself consumed her. She thought about him all the time.
As Martin continued on for years in the throes of addiction, Susan cycled through different phases of grief and emotion. At times she would distance herself from him. She’d back off and try not to think about it or find out what was happening with him. She would bury her pain. For years she wrestled with God, asking him why he had allowed this to happen to her son. One day when she was praying, she finally understood the answer to her question. Martin’s life of addiction was no surprise to God, and he had sovereignly chosen Susan to be his mother.
This realization reoriented Susan’s thinking. It allowed her to see Martin not as a problem to be solved but as someone God had entrusted to her to love no matter what.
It’s not hard to understand how a parent’s love for a prodigal child can be a kingdom parable because that’s the point of the most famous parable Jesus ever told. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man with two sons. One requests his inheritance early, leaves home, and lives like there’s no tomorrow. His profligate lifestyle comes to an end when he runs out of money and hits rock bottom. He hires himself out to a pig farmer, but he’s so hungry even the pigs’ food looks good to him.
When he comes to his senses, he realizes that if he’s going to be a servant, he might as well be a servant in his father’s house where the hired hands are well fed. We don’t know whether he has repented or regrets the pain he’s given to his father. But we do know that his father embraced him before he could get a word out of his mouth. He isn’t made a servant, but instead, he’s celebrated as if he is a returning war hero. The father wants all around him to share his joy, proclaiming, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24).
Jesus told this parable, along with the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin, in response to Pharisees who chided him for eating with sinners. The father in the story didn’t care that his son had nothing to show for his inheritance or that he had been hanging around with (unclean) swine. He had his son back. Jesus ate with sinners because they are the prodigal sons and daughters of God. They don’t deserve a place at the table, but God offers them one because he loves them. We don’t deserve a place at the table, but he gives us one because he loves us. He’s our father.
The Prodigal Spouse
There’s another parable of a prodigal in the Bible. It isn’t told by Jesus; instead, it was lived in real life by the prophet Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. He took her away from the men who had bought her, gave her a home, and had children by her. She didn’t stay with him but instead ran away to her old life, the life he had rescued her from.
God wouldn’t let Hosea let his wife go. He directed him to go and buy her back. Only think of how painful it must have been for a husband whose wife has run away from his loving provision to have to purchase her from another man. But Hosea did it because God has done that for us. Though she had not loved him, he loved her.