In recent years the tale of the prodigal son in the New Testament has become one of my favorite stories. I have fallen in love with it because of its layers of depth and meaning. Christ taught in parables for that very reason.
As a child I always thought the prodigal son was a story about the youngest son who wasted his inheritance. Later I discovered that the word prodigal means to waste or throw away; and that is certainly what the young son did with his money.
But the parable never uses the term prodigal. And it especially never identifies the young son the prodigal son. We do that. We hang the label and moral of the story on the youngest son.
Yet, what about the older son? As I’ve grown older I have discovered more deep, relative truths in the older son’s life than the younger son.
In truth, the older son is also a prodigal or wasteful son. In fact, he may be the prodigal son. He wastes something infinitely more precious and eternal than money. He stands ready to waste or throw away his relationship with his family.
Like the older son I have lived a relatively steady life. I have tried to do what is right throughout my life. So how do I feel when I see someone else, who has scoffed at the commandments of God, getting the fatted calves and best robes in life—not to mention all the symbolism that goes with getting a ring on their finger and shoes on their feet?
But the story is deeper than even that. The father is, so clearly, our Heavenly Father. He has welcomed into heaven one of his own children who has made the effort to return home. He does not care where the youngest son was. He cares where he is...and that is right where he should be, back in heaven.
Entrance in to Heaven is by choice…our choice. We have to want to be there. God stands watching and waiting, ready to embrace all who truly desire to come to Him. He will run to help us return home.
The young son chose to return and enter home. The elder son chose not to enter but stood outside sulking—nursing a grudge, grumbling over a perceived wrong, wasting time and damaging relationships with his grumblings and grudges, even when no one else was around to hear it.
Finally the father comes to the elder son and ‘intreated him’. That means he begged and implored the son to join them—to let go of those feelings and enter into the feast.
We never find out what the elder son did.
Maybe that is because the story isn’t about what the younger son did so much as the elder son is going to do. That answer cannot be given, for it is up to us to decide by searching our own personal thoughts and feelings. The story of the prodigal son is our story. We are supposed to write the ending.
So how will our story end? Are we nursing a grudge against someone? If we are, then we have placed ourselves outside of Heaven, unwilling to join the feast. That makes us the wasteful son. Relationships--and Heaven--should never be thrown away.