A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give to me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood. (Luke 15:11-12)


When we think of the parable of the prodigal son, our attention is drawn to the younger son who asks for his inheritance and wastes it on immoral living. This fact obviously explains the familiar name often given to this parable: “The Prodigal Son.” The term prodigal means, profligate, wanton, reckless, etc., which are apt descriptions of the younger son’s behavior. And it is true that the centerpiece of the story is his journey into the “far country” where he squandered his inheritance. But this is not the main point of the parable—only its background.

The important lesson that the Lord Jesus is stressing to His listeners is not the profligate, riotous life of the lad in question, but the extravagant love of his father despite the rebellious, foolish ways of his son. A secondary theme emerges as well: the hard, unforgiving attitude of the older son. The lesson is to show God’s large heart, His disposition of grace in contrast to the legal harshness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees typified by the older son! We can be certain that the parable had a profound impact upon Christ’s religious opponents, and upon the sinners who listened to Him that day!

When the boy asked for his share of the inheritance he was, in effect, saying that his father was as good as dead. Normally, the inheritance would only be given upon the death of the father. The callous selfishness is shocking, but it is a true picture of every sinner! The prodigal was as guilty the moment he crossed his father’s threshold as he was when in the “far country.” Man is not a sinner because he sins, rather he sins because he is a sinner. It is not God who is alienated from man, but man who has departed from God—“All have sinned.”

Brian Reynolds