Prodigal Son


I'll kneel down and know my ground

Reflecting on the story of the prodigal son (Luke.15:11-32).


We're all lost, it's just that some of us know it.

I want to start by confessing something to you. I think I’m good at knowing where I’m going. The first time I ever came to Liverpool was to take my wife to an interview. I didn’t want to be stuck in traffic on the way home, so I took a ‘short-cut’. The problem is my short-cut was not based on anything other than the observation that a lot of cars were turning off the road so they must know something I don’t! I wish I could tell you that I learnt from that lesson, but the truth is I didn’t, all too often when it comes to navigating through life I still observe and then think I know best and end up lost.

So break my step

Some things are too outrageous for us to hear without warning. When we tell someone shocking news, we often ask them to sit down first. In my own therapeutic work with people, I can see how they often have to go on a journey to be prepared to hear that which will inspire change. I think this is what Jesus is doing in verses 1 to 10 of this passage. Jesus wants to break our step so we can really hear.

First, in the story of the lost sheep, we are presented with the picture of how easy it is to gradually wander off track whilst just getting on with life nibbling away at the grass. Then in the story of the lost coin we see how sometimes nothing in particular has been done, but circumstances have changed, and the coin is now lost. In both cases we might see how these things easily occur and can perhaps feel the panic and determination of the person seeking that which is lost. But now on board with the idea of being lost and found, Jesus pushes this concept.

The younger son

In the story of the prodigal son, we are presented with a younger son who chooses to go. He seeks out the rock’n’roll lifestyle optimistic that he knows best what will make him feel fulfilled.

He probably enjoyed himself at first. The indication is that he only started to question what he was doing when things went wrong, and he was in need. He became so desperate that he was even jealous of the food being eating by the pigs, an unclean animal for any self-respecting Jewish boy. So, he decides to return home. There is no clear indication about the motivation for this choice other than the recognition that he might be better off back at home, although he is prepared to throw himself on the mercy of his father and admit he made a mistake.

These days of dust … will blow away …

As we know, the father spots the younger son in the distance and runs to greet him welcoming him home with compassion and celebration. This is like Jesus’ first two stories about the sheep and the coin. Yet here, despite having squandered and lost everything the father gives the younger son more, the best robe, sandals, a ring for his finger. The Father blows away of the dust of his previous life choices with joy that they can be reunited once again.

The older son

As we know, the older son was perhaps understandably upset. Why haven’t I been treated like this. That’s not fair! He refuses to go into the celebration. Once again, the father’s response is to go out to meet the son and he pleads with him to join the celebration, but unlike the younger son, the older one refuses the fathers offer.

The older son, ironically, despite all the outward appearance of him remaining with the father and being faithful has now also chosen to be on the outside, away from the father’s joy. Lost. Like this older son we may feel we have never been unfaithful in our choices, but we can still be lost in spirit. We are all lost, the difference is just that some of us know it. And this is the outrageous truth of the story.

I’ll kneel down and know my ground

We say it every week in our confession, but do we really believe it. We are all sinners. Yet this isn’t a miserable message of despair. It’s a message of liberation because we also follow it up by saying that we are forgiven. This story reminds us of the humbling truth about our sin and the outrageously active and aggressive love of our God. Our sin might be making the wrong choices; either gradually and not realising it or very actively rejecting God. But our sin might equally be that of begrudging service and jealousy of God’s ‘unjust’ love and grace. The truth is that there is nothing good or bad that we can do to change God’s outrageous love and aggressive seeking of us, watching for us to return and hurrying out to welcome us in. The only question is how we respond.

I fell heavy in to your arms

As God comes to us, we are to fall heavy into his arms. God doesn’t say get clean and come to me. Or come to me once you have served me faithfully. He just says come. We don’t need to be well motivated, or holy, or pure at heart. God wants to walk with us on those journeys not have us do them alone. The revolution has begun, we can’t stop God loving and seeking us. All we can do it chose to fall into him, no matter what choices we might make. After all, we are all lost, the only difference is some of us know it and don’t think we have the answer.





Dr Tim Keller is an American pastor, theologian and Christian apologist. He has written extensively including on topics such as the prodgial son. To find out more about Dr Keller, visit his website via the link below.




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