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a prodigal son for the modern era

2246678466_edbcbab8a5_oI’d like to offer my own version of the prodigal son found in Luke chapter fifteen.  Since I have lived the parable, I figure I might have the kind of outlook it takes to re-write it.   Rather than recount the ancient Gospel account, I have made my version up to date and much more palatable.  Sort of a prodigal son for the modern era.  Of course, I have deleted the most offensive part—the celebration the irresponsible father wasted his time and money on. 

Here goes…

A guy with two sons learns that one of them has plans to leave and collect all he has coming to him before his departure.  The older brother stays home while the younger one goes—and although he’s as much of a scoundrel (or moreso) than the younger son—the father doesn’t mind so much because he is needy and would do anything for acceptance.  After a brief stint away spent carousing, womanizing, and living like a rock star until he is finally broke—the younger son returns home.  When the father sees his sorry excuse for a son making his way down the street towards the family residence, he runs into his study and grabs the latest ‘Christian’ book on relationships.  He and his wife hurriedly thumb through the pages looking for the authors soundest advice.  After reading for a couple of minutes he makes up his mind.  When his son gets to the front door he is prepared.  Once he reluctantly greets his son, it becomes obvious to the father that the prodigal son has not spent enough time away reaping what he has sown. 

The father then shoes his undeserving prodigal along as if he were some peddler of trinkets and trash—all to the satisfaction of  the onlooking older brother of course.The father is confident that his prodigals apologies and cries for mercy are not heartfelt.  But before the younger son can turn in shame and leave, the father reads him his rights.  He advises the son that when he can demonstrate a more obvious repentance and clean up his act he will be welcomed home—on several conditions of course.  The first condition being he will need to remain sober for an entire year before his father reconsiders.  Secondly, he will need to start going to church on a regular basis.  Thirdly, he will be required to read the book ‘Boundaries’ and be able to recite its key principles.  Fourthly, he will need to prove his sincerity by agreeing to give a public confession followed by serving as the older brother’s subordinate in the family business for an undisclosed amount of time.  And lastly, if he messes up in the least bit, he will be escorted off the father’s property by the authorities never to return again. 

Months later in his bid to earn his way back home, the younger son realizes he can’t live up to his fathers standards and decides he’ll just give up.  Two years down the road he succumbs to his prolonged battle with paralyzing guilt and takes his own life.  The townspeople all gather and pay their respects to the father.  The father decides after burying his son that he can help other parents with prodigal children by launching a national tour endorsed by some of today’s leading experts to lecture on what happens to children that don’t learn to honor the rules.  He becomes an international phenomenon and speaks to crowds in some of the biggest churches in the world.              

Tragically, that is pretty accurate.  It is the untruth many Christians have been taught.  Thankfully, Jesus didn’t teach what I have outlined.  But you wouldn’t know it unless you read his account.  He mandated that his followers embrace one another and reach out to prodigals and every other slimy individual no matter popular opinion. 

To read the actual account visit BibleGateway here.

Maybe it is time some of us question what we have been taught—or worse yet, what we have been teaching.

How many marriages would last and prosper and how many families would remain together if this were the way we lived?

  1. January 4, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Man this is GOOD. I have been wrestling with this story, wondering what happened when 2 months later the prodigal stumbled again or messed up. Did his Father still treat him the same way? What if the prodigal wasn’t all “churchy” and cleaned up? What if he could never be that person again because of all he had been through? What if he still wanted a beer? What if he still wanted to be friends with non-believers? Thanks Ken!

  2. kenstoll
    January 5, 2009 at 12:23 am


    I’m thinking like you and that’s why I wrote the post. Something tells me this son had more freedom and less rules after his return home than we dare to think. I dare to say his father didn’t treat him an ounce different whatsoever. It was the son who could now see his father in a new light. When God pours out his lavish mercy on the undeserving those who think they are deserving never fail to get fighting mad. I call these misguided souls ‘freedom fighters’—constantly telling the rest of us about how repentant and giving they are. They talk about rules more than grace. The try at every turn to minimize and redefine the freedom of God in Christ Jesus. Legalism has no room for a prodigal unless she turns into a legalist after she’s sown her wild oats. Its when the prodigal becomes a lightning rod for freedom that she gets zapped—‘how dare she think God wants her to have any fun!’. But it was the father who started the partying in the first place.

    As sure as self-righteousness is self-serving, so the older brother here would attempt to do anything within his measly power to keep the younger from returning home to the father. So there are those today who don’t very much appreciate the message of prodigal grace. A manageable, tamed, and fair grace—sure. But grace in its nature is none of those things. They’d rather see us prodigals (speaking of myself here) rot in our sin outside the life of grace (mind you, in order to protect themselves if for nothing else, even if it means our demise). The moment God’s grace is seen, their stinginess is exposed.

    We who have sinned, and greatly I’d say, have the distinct role of making the enemies of grace look even worse by giving our merciful Father the opportunity to express just how ‘dazzlingly good’ he can be (as Eugene Peterson once commented). Do we sin on purpose to show his mercy? Paul writes, 1 ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6).’ Am I promoting sin here? Not hardly. But we must not be so gullible, we still fall into sin as Christians—and sometimes gross and extreme.

    The gospel proclaims that our Father never loads us down with rules but instead pours his Spirit out on us and empowers us to live after Christ. The gospel is about freedom, and if anything, freedom for rebels that have returned home! It is those who have tasted bondage who truly can appreciate real freedom after all—the freedom we find in the person of Christ. The freedom to serve God. The freedom to live above condemnation for deeds that are done and over. We have this thing all wrong when we think God had rule keeping in mind when he created man. His original intention was unbroken fellowship and intimacy—we are the ones who couldn’t keep one single rule to stay away from one single tree. And yet, he restores relationship. Rules are easy for us cause they don’t require humility or openness. Rules allow us to be right—and for some of us we’d rather have that than God. Prodigals have been wrong but they can have God nonetheless. Rules are rigid and that’s why the most committed legalists are the coldest people you will ever meet. Hate it or not, God’s love extends beyond how well we adhere to a list of do’s and dont’s. As a matter of fact, God loves us no less when we break the rules.

    Your comments dig deep beyond the surface, I appreciate your robust faith Amy. You have been a welcome encouragement for me this past year. May the God of prodigals show both you and I the love that’s more scandalous and fierce than we have embraced. Our God is the God of second chances they say. I say not so—he has given me much more than second chances time and time again!


  3. muzacmercer
    August 14, 2010 at 12:44 am

    I recently wrote a song about the Prodigal Son. This is my testimony of God’s amazing grace in my life. If you have a sec here it is. Thanks for listening

    • kenstoll
      August 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

      just listened to your song Brice, that’s beautiful.

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