The prodigal son found in Luke 15 is a story that works in all cultures and is for all generations. It is a story I have shared many times with unbelievers, a story that has been retold in a thousand sermons, and something that I sometimes wonder whether there is ever anything more to be said about that hasn’t already been said.
While it may be true that this story is well-known (if by chance you haven’t read it, hop on over to Luke 15), let’s take a fresh look at the Prodigal son parable for a moment as an analogy of taking vs receiving.
The Spirit of Taking
The son likes to take what he wants and take it now! The son takes the inheritance from the Father, demanding his portion, seeking to take worth and significance. The son seeks all the experiences of the world on his terms, seeking to take his freedom. The son takes comfort in momentary relationships and sexual encounters seeking to take intimacy. The son takes the world by storm, squandering his resources, engaging in wild parties – demanding community from a crowd of strangers, but using them for what he can get.
This path of demanding and taking eventually leaves him with nothing left in his bag of tricks. Even as he starts to return home he is still living in the fake it and take it mentality, trying to plan how and rehearse how he will earn and take his way back into the fold of the Father.
Learning to Receive
Yet the most wonderful moment in the crescendo of the parable comes when the father takes him back. In these moments of acceptance, forgiveness and grace we see the son finally learns to receive. He receives the robe, the ring and the shoes as he enters the Father’s house and in that moment he realizes he has been given the Father’s blessing, the Father’s significance, the Father’s worth and the Father’s authority: Not only that, but he receives his place at the Banquet table, and in that moment realises he is part of the Father’s family. All of these are given from the Father's love irrespective of the son’s behaviour. They are all given not grabbed.
When you consider the response from the Father’s heart and the invitation back into the Father’s house against the contrast of either the rebel living wildly or the hypocrite performing desperately for attention, both seem awkwardly out of place. These behaviors feel alien and orphan like - they don’t feel right around the Father's table. Yet, why do they sometimes feel so commonplace in church?
Perhaps this story reveals a great truth that we need to explore further. In the journey of giving and receiving love there is never a problem at the Father’s end of the equation. Until we deal with the barriers to receiving that are at our end, perhaps we will never feel comfortable sitting at the Father’s table.