Meaning in the Prodigal Son Parable
Repentance is the theme in the prodigal son. Yuck! …Hold on. Grasp its meaning, and it’s a better feeling than you’d have winning the lottery. And you’ll feel as safe as a baby in the most loving mother’s arms.
First, know that Jesus redefines repentance. This statement comes from world famous scholar Dr. Ken Bailey who lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years. Now, in two sentences this is what repentance looked like prior to its redefinition? In Jesus’ day, much like our own, repentance meant turning from sin then returning to God. If the sinner would follow these three steps, the sinner could return to God:
(1) confess the sin,
(2) repay, and
(3) committing to not sinning again.
Next, here’s how we know that repentance is indeed the theme. Remember, as one parable Jesus tells the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. At the end of both the lost sheep and the lost coin, the text says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Unexpectedly repentance is the theme. But even more vexing is what did the sheep do that resembles repentance? What did the coin do that resembles repentance? In the prodigal son, it’s not surprising this same theme continues. So what did the sons do that resemble repentance?
Clearly, neither the sheep nor the coin plays any active role in their own restoration. It’s the saving action of the shepherd who finds and restores the sheep. It’s the saving action of the lady who finds the coin. And in the lost sons, it’s the father’s costly demonstration of unexpected love that restores the relationship. Repentance is therefore redefined as “accepting being found,” a response to the saving actions of the father.
Some see Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as a necessary act to placate God’s anger. For these, it may be helpful to reflect on the prodigal son parable. Where Jesus’ costly demonstration of unexpected love, his long suffering, not only creates a relationship bridge for us—but he crosses that bridge and joyfully carries us home.
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