Christians are familiar with what has become the most famous short story all in the Bible. It was narrated by none other than Jesus himself and is commonly called ‘the parable of the Prodigal Son’ (Lk.15: 11-24). All of us humans are on a journey of discovery and in examining the experiences of this young person we notice 3 obvious facts directly related to his and our ‘pursuit of happiness’
First, notice the subtle desires that mastered him. The younger son had what I call, the ‘give me’s, illustrated when he demanding from the father his share of the real estate or inheritance. Underlying this desire is an attitude of stubborness that ‘wants what one wants and wants it now’! He was tired of living in his father’s house and under his authority. Many youth, even adults today, in so many ways say, ‘It’s my life, I’ll live it how I want to, leave me alone’! The conviction is that experiencing or possessing all those ‘things’ this world says we need to, will bring personal satisfaction and real happiness.
Further, this younger son had the ‘get away’ mentality, which supposes that in order to find true freedom one must leave the familiar and explore whatever is ‘out there’. There is selfishness in this kind of thinking that not only breeds discontent with the present good, but as with this Jewish boy who initiates the division of the property, there is a rebellious disregard for the father’s desire/will. I don’t believe this son was the scoundrel he is often made out to be. The father must have reasoned with him, but of no avail. Setting out to ‘gain the world’ as Jesus mentioned elsewhere, he began to ‘loose his own soul’. He could have been sincere in his pursuit, but his next set of experiences show he was sincerely wrong.
Second, one cannot miss the disasters which met him in the far and foreign country to which he ‘took off’ and wasted all his money on wild living. We get the word ‘prodigal’ from the ‘wasteful’ way he carelessly squandered his resources. This stage in his life experience proves to be one of recession and painful loss. A famine swept over the country and he lost all his wealth. Having lost his finances, he soon lost his fair-weather friends and there was no food to sustain him. Interestingly, he set out to live out his freedom, outside his father’s will, but in reality, he lost it! As I grow older, I’m learning that the true wealth in life actually consists of the opportunities that life holds for me. If this is so, how soon and easily wealth can be lost!
More serious than losing wealth was the loss of this prodigal’s true worth. Imagine a rich Jewish lad who would not touch a pig, certainly not eat ‘pork’, hiring himself out to feed pigs and eating off the waste thrown at them! This is a vivid picture of what theologians call ‘total depravity’. In leaving his father’s palace, he had worked his way to a pigpen and hits ‘rock bottom’. Here, he ceases to believe in own self-worth and feels ‘no more worthy to be called his father’s son’. He finds himself, like many of us often have in a crisis with bondages that he cannot break and consequences that he cannot undo. All these experiences offer him opportunity to reflect on life back ‘home’.
Third, when he finally comes to his senses, there were discoveries he made. Sitting in desperate need among pigs that were better fed than he was, he began to think of his father’s house, his father servants who had food enough to spare and importantly his father’s nature. At that moment, he found out his own fool hardiness. ‘He came to himself’ to accept who he really belonged to, and came back to his ‘right mind’ which indicates he was long ‘out of’ it. In arrogance, trying to prove he was strong, he found himself weak; he went seeking to be happy but found misery. Professing to be wise, he had become a fool. Hasn’t everyone been a prodigal son?
He makes the crucial decision to return home. The prodigal not only ‘came to his senses’, he came back home to discover afresh his father’s heart. Yet this was not until, with no resources and loss of dignity, he realized his father’s compassion – suffering love. This was where the he found true happiness as well as his future home: not in living like a pig, but in his father’s presence, feasting at his gracious table and in fulfilling his good purposes. Like many of us, the prodigal wanted to be free to live as he pleased rather than live as he should. Now, he swallows his pride and makes a right-about turn. Beyond feeling remorse or regret, he repents and confesses his sin and unworthiness to his father who is ready to forgive and receive his son back.
The far country is not hard to find. You do not have to go to Goa, India or Las Vegas, USA to gamble your resources and waste your life; you can enter it right where you are. Sin is alienation; a state of the mind and affections. In short, it is rebellion against God, your heavenly Father’s word. Outside God’s will, our dreams can turn into nightmares. Our best prospects are found in God’s family wherein our true identity and support lies. Fulfilling our responsibility can be the greatest adventure in faith. The prodigal son was sick of home then he was homesick, but finally he was home! If you have wandered far away from God, would come back home? Come ‘just as you are’ though feeling poor, wretched, blind; for all you need, in Jesus you will find. Discover in Christ’s grace, a Father already there waiting, you to receive; to welcome, pardon, cleanse and relieve!