There once was a man who had two sons. The younger son says to the father that he wants his share of the inheritance now. This is horribly offensive, asking for something like this can split a family, and can turn your community against you. While it would be quite uncommon, it’s not unprecedented. There are actually ways to handle this situation should they come up. First, if there is an older son, it is his role to quell this issue, to talk to the younger son and preserve the family. Second, the father has the right and ability to say no. However, if the father should decide to give the inheritance now the son receiving the inheritance will actually receive less as the father still has to have funds to live on (which means that the older son would actually get more as his inheritance when the father passes).
So, the younger son obviously wants something from the father, he’s basically said, Dad I wish you were dead, the only good you are to me is what I’ll inherit from you. I want it now. However, the older brother should be stepping in here, but he doesn’t. He wants stuff from the father as well.
They have their father there with them, but they don’t really want him, they want his stuff. This story reminds me and many others of another story in the gospel of Luke, the story of the demoniac from Luke 8:26-39.
Crowds begin to follow Jesus, so he crosses the Sea of Galilee to a foreign country (notice from the prodigal son story the son gathered his belonging and traveled for a foreign country). Jesus encounters a man filled with many demons living among the caves and tombs. Here is a picture of that area. Jesus sends the demons into a heard of pigs (notice from the prodigal son story the son winds up feeding pigs). And of course one of the big things is that in the prodigal son story the father spots the younger son a long ways off and runs to him. Jesus came to the demoniac, he didn’t come to Jesus. Then, after the demons have gone out into the pigs we have a mass swine suicide as all the pigs go charging off the cliff and into the water. The locals come to the scene, see the man in his right mind, and do they celebrate? No. They have Jesus there, God is in their midst, and they are more worried about their livelihood (the pigs) than they are about encountering God in this moment. As a matter of fact, they are filled with fear and they send Jesus away. They have God right there with them, and they are more concerned about stuff. Sounds a bit like the two sons doesn’t it.
They want stuff from the father, but the father simply wants them. When the younger son returns home there are all kinds of ways the father could have reacted, but he doesn’t. The father could be out working, getting on with life. The father could stand there with arms crossed, stoic, saying nothing but communicating condemnation through his stare. He could rant and rave. He could say nope, you blew it. You wanted your inheritance, you got it, now go survive. He could say you’re darn right you’re not worthy to be called my son. He could say, okay, deal you can be a servant. But he doesn’t. Instead he is waiting and watching for his son, and when he spots him a long ways off he runs to him. His son wanted stuff from him, but he simply wanted his son. The older son refuses to go into the party, he too simply wanted stuff from the father, and what we see the father doing is pleading with his son to come in and celebrate. The two sons are just alike, they simply go about it from a different way. The younger son tries to get what he wants through rebellion, the older son tries to get what he wants through compliance saying, I’ve stayed here all this time slaving for you and you never even gave me a goat. But to the father all his slaving is meaningless because even though they wanted stuff from the father, the father doesn’t want anything from his sons.
He simply wants them.
Here is a picture of the Sea of Galilee, notice that you can actually see from one side to the other. I think a lot of times we think of the son traveling around the world, but actually he didn’t have to go that far at all. And maybe part of the lesson here is that God can be close, and yet we can be very far away. The older son never even leaves home, buy by the time the story is over he’s actually farther away from the father relationally than the younger son who rebelled and physically went somewhere else.
Sometimes our rebellion separates us from God.
Sometimes our obedience separates us from God.
And the question becomes, what do you want? Do you want things from God, or do you simply want God? The brothers, they both have a relationship with the father, but there’s a difference between having a relationship and really connecting. Do you want stuff from God, or do you value above all that deep, intimate relationship with God?
And can you trust that God is really as good as the father in the parable? Can you trust God with all those things you want? Because one of the lessons we learn from this story is that we don’t really know what we want.
May you trust that God is truly that good, and is worthy of your trust. May you surrender your wants, desires, and anxieties to God. And may you have a deeper, more fulfilling experience of God than you ever imagined.