The Prodigal Son Graduates From the School of Hard Knocks

Sometimes that's the best school.

Luke 15:11-20 (ESV)

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The father seems to have gotten this all along. The son was still a long way off, when his father saw him and felt compassion. If he was clueless, he wouldn’t have felt compassion until the son was close enough that he could see what a mess he was in.

It’s a parable, so we can’t puzzle though what actually happened. The point is to understand the picture Jesus is painting here. The father in this story seems to be completely unsurprised by his son’s reckless (i.e., prodigal) living. It’s as if he gave the inheritance to his son, and then let him leave, knowing that he would blow the money.

This makes perfect sense as the father in this parable is analogous to our heavenly father (who knows how everything is going to pan out). A father should know how his son thinks anyway.

Now this is just the set-up for the main lesson, which we will get to next, but this has something to say on its own. The son’s sin is “usual, customary and reasonable” (to paraphrase health insurance lingo.) It seems pretty extreme and depressing to the casual reader, but it’s not really.

The father’s plan is brilliant. He could have just had his son memorize all the right things about his sinful nature, but then the kid wouldn’t have really learned the lesson.

Now he has.

This explains a lot of God’s lessons. Sometimes, memorizing correct doctrine isn’t enough. To complete the lesson, we need to experience it.

Unfortunately, that kind of teaching often involves pain. In fact, our unwillingness to admit we’re wrong makes us very slow learners in this arena.

So, we get hammered. Praise God for that.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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