“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Luke 15:21
Not every wayward child qualifies as a prodigal.
That’s a hard pill to swallow.
I’ve written about my daughter a few times in relation to the prodigal story. I love and pray for her, and as the father in this parable does, I watch for her to return. The difference between the parable and her situation is how the child returns. My daughter has come home or asked to come home a few times, but she never has come back stating the words expressed by the prodigal son in Luke 15:21. She still wants a handout. She still wants acceptance and a place in the fold as if she’s done nothing wrong. That is not a prodigal’s return.
Although the story of the prodigal son gives us hope when we have a wayward family member, there are some significant points we must remember.
- Jesus told this story to explain how God greets the repentant sinner. He rejoices when a sinner turns away from sin and acknowledges his mistakes, not expecting a return to the position he had before. The beauty of this repentance is that God does give him that position of honor. He does not become less in God’s eyes because of his mistakes.
- The son realizes his mistake and returns but not expecting to step right back into the life he had. When she turns from her sin, she should do so with the realization that she deserves nothing. God will give her everything; she will become His daughter, but she must understand that this is His grace to give, not her due.
- This story is about who needs salvation. It’s not about the children in our lives who wander away from our family’s fold, although they do need salvation in most cases. Can we still apply it in that way? Sure, but we must remember that the parable was a response to who Jesus ate and socialized with:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
Why am I taking the time to explore this? Because my daughter has not qualified as the prodigal child. Yet. Her words and actions tell me she hasn’t accepted any responsibility for her life choices. She still wants me to bail her out. I can’t. I’ve actually tried that only to lose her again.
To be a prodigal, the person must accept his own responsibility in what drew him away. She must turn away from the life she’s fallen into. He must take the steps necessary to leave the poor life choices behind. She must show her heart in a way that tells us she is the prodigal come home.