My Favorite Parables, pt 1: The Prodigal Son

Another repost from Quora, originally posted February 6, 2014. Please forgive some of my more risque language used here. The question was posted as-is and I simply used some of the same language in answering the question.

Years ago I used to teach a Sunday School class at church, and one of my favorite topics to teach about was (and probably still is) the parables of Jesus. I find them extremely challenging and imparting good life-lessons. There are some hard principles there. The Prodigal Son is one of the hardest in terms of total forgiveness. If I am honest with myself, I often sympathize with the older son here more than I would like to admit. As someone who has “towed the line” and tried to walk the “straight and narrow” most of my life, it is very difficult when I see people whom I consider to be screw-ups being forgiven and given favor. There is a part of me that feels they got what they deserve and they should live with those consequences. However, when I read this I’m reminded that we should rejoice with people when they make good decisions and try to turn their life around.

For full context, the passage can be found in Luke 15. I recommend reading the entire chapter and not starting at verse 11. The first ten verses add much more context to the story.

Could someone please explain to me(without diverging into spaketh and eternal anguishes) how to interpret the parable of the prodigal son. To me it reads like a clear cut case of parental favouritism and a jet set sibling being a douche bag. Where’s the moral?

It speaks to forgiveness and redemption. Much in the same way as the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one lost, or the old woman who swept the house searching for the one lost coin.

The context of the parable: Just before Jesus told the parable, he was approached by a bunch of religious folk who complained he was associating himself – even eating with – sinful people. Jesus then proceeds to tell a story about a selfish, douche bag, jet-setting child who basically insults his father and wastes his inheritance. At the end of the day, the son finds himself slopping pigs – so destitute that he finds the pigs food desirous. It’s the culmination of his sin. He’s now considered lower than a pig (which was pretty low in the Jewish mind).

The child then returns home. He is planning on begging his father for a job. His pride is broken. He thought he could make it on his own and failed. He realized he needed his father’s guidance, and would rather be a slave to his father than free man on his own terms.

His father, seeing the son approaching, basically acts the fool and celebrates in an undignified manner on seeing his child return. Whereas the son has cut his ties, the father does not hold this against him. He holds no grudge, but rejoices that his son has come home. He celebrates the fact that his son is alive and well and ready to be part of the family once again. He presents him with complete, no-strings-attached forgiveness. He accepts him home not as a slave, but fully as son.

This, of course, makes the good son (to whom, apparently, the OP sympathizes) a bit upset. His father has shamed himself and rejoiced for the douche-bag son, while he – the good son – has never been celebrated like this. Instead of rejoicing in his brother’s return, instead of being happy and seeing redemption, he instead harbors jealousy and ill-will.

In the parable – the lost son represents the people of ill-repute with whom Jesus was associating, while the good son represents the religious folk who confronted Jesus. His message to them: why do you care? Do you rather see them punished for their sin, or do you rejoice in their redemption? When someone seeks to be reunited with the (F)ather, we should rejoice in the redemption, not judge for past actions.

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