I suppose, preachers have used the parable of the prodigal son, throughout the centuries. The significance of the parable draws parallels between those having dropped out of faith and those remaining faithful to the cause of Christianity.
But Jesus’ usage of this parable, implies deeper significance than such simplicities. This is particularly true, when picking up the significance of Jesus—maintaining a perpetual relationship with his Father. Under normal circumstances, even in human terms, a father-son relationship holds some perpetual bonding.
After the death of the father, the son seeks to advance the dreams of the deceased father. The only problem with humanity is that such relationships are not, necessarily, committed spiritually. They are of physical nature, so that the relationships go as far as they get interred in the graves.
Also, due to infidelity and other complications, associated with humanity, this Father-Son relationship has its own limitations. But the truth remains in that humanity’s true origin is not necessarily of earthly parents. Everything in our physical lives carries temporary existence that does not go beyond the grave.
When Jesus instructed His disciples not to call anyone on earth their Father, He was advancing the reality of what exists between God and humanity. On saying, “Let us create Man in our image,” God was pronouncing Himself as the true Father of those created in His own image.
The Godly attributes were to be found in humanity. Unfortunately, what currently prevails is resistance of that reality, by the same humanity. Through the instruction to His disciples, Jesus revealed that our human fathers have nothing to do with our original identities: “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven”(Matthew 23:9) (ESV).
What Jesus said is the most important data, ever released throughout Jesus’ teachings. But it takes some revelation to understand what Jesus taught, though clearly stated in black and white. Most of Jesus’ teachings were in parables—used in order to hide the significance—to be only understood through revelation:
“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”(Mark 4:10-12) (ESV).
In other words, the teaching of Jesus in parables was not intended for every ordinary person to understand. Lest they turn and be forgiven. Jesus did not intend for humanity to turn and be forgiven—before appreciating the responsibility associated with repentance (Luke 14:25-33). That responsibility required forsaking everything, in order to follow Christ.
Peter and his friends had, actually, left their businesses, including their families, to follow Christ (Matthew 19:27). This highlights the key of what true Christianity is all about. Preaching in parables meant that the rest of humanity would not understand—serve for those having left everything to follow Christ. These are the people, to whom Jesus was saying they should call no-one on earth their Father.
Obviously, if analyzed by ordinary humans, Jesus’ statement could invoke some offence. Naturally, people get offended by statements that appear as dishonoring their parents. Honoring one’s parents is considered virtuous and Godly. But Jesus is telling His disciples to avoid that. He could not have said this to ordinary people.
The earthly fathers that those disciples knew were, actually, not their parents. Like Jesus, they were to know of only one Father who was in Heaven. Jesus used the parable of the prodigal Son to clarify this reality. The Father of that prodigal Son is God, whose prodigal Son refers to humanity.
Allegorically, Jesus represents the other Son, who had remained faithful to his father. Jesus’ crucifixion experience denotes the momentary rejection, by His Father. This is displayed by the behavior of the older son—having remained with his father—unlike the prodigal son (Luke 15:25-32). The Father had equally loved both His sons—but displaying joy after the return of his lost son.
To the loving Father, the sins of the prodigal son are not relevant. He treats his son as though he never sinned. The faithful Son who had always been with His father, naturally feels uncomfortable, with His Father’s behavior. But here is what his father declares to him:
“And he said to him ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found”(Luke 15:31-32) (ESV)
Now apply all this to what happened to Jesus, who, Moses prophesied as would come from humanity’s midst: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—“ (Deuteronomy 18:15) (ESV).
Our Brother, Jesus, never left His Father—like the known humanity. It appears as unfair for Jesus to then carry the sins on the cross, for the lost humanity—yet having not sinned. On that parable of the prodigal son, the older brother feels neglected—as if being punished for having always been with his father.
But, on hearing his grumbling, his father quickly assures him of the fact that everything that belonged to the father was his (Luke 15:31). We have to fully understand the older brother’s grievance and his apparent failure to understand his Father—celebrating the return of the disobedient brother. It is easy to be quick in assuming that the brother was jealous.
Yet all of us have the propensity to feel the same. The older son became sad—not because his wayward brother had returned. But because the father appeared as ungrateful for the older son’s commitment to serve him, faithfully. Now, let us consider Jesus’ stressful hardships on the cross:
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 26:46) (ESV).
The person going through the agony of the cross had done nothing to deserve such treatment. This is just as the older son had done nothing to deserve being treated disrespectfully, by his father. The one who deserved to be treated disrespectfully was the prodigal son, as a wayward brother.
That question: Why have you forsaken me? Is not different from the grumbling older brother, considering their father’s behavior. We are not shown exactly, what the prodigal son thought of his lavish treatment, at the expense of his faithful brother? But by celebrating his return, the father appeared as having momentarily forsaken his own faithful son?
Similarly, when Jesus went through the suffering on the cross, it appeared as though His Father had momentarily forsaken Him. But His Father was right there to assure Jesus that everything of His Father was His. In three days’ time, Jesus was to be resurrected, so that all authority, in Heaven and on earth was to be given to him. (Matthew 28:18).
The prodigal son—represented in the wayward humanity—is celebrated heartily by the Almighty God. But there is no question about Jesus—having all along, remained faithful to His Father—to ever be forsaken. This is a factual analysis that can never be understood by those removing Jesus from being our brother and making Him to be a member of the Trinity.
The story of humanity is lost—right at the point when people fail to appreciate the role of Jesus. As being our brother, and not our Father. Jesus stated that He was the way, the truth and the life. Specifically, what Jesus was talking about is that He represented everything necessary for us to attain God’s Kingdom.
It could not have been Jesus’ will to go through the cross, but His Father’s will (Matthew 26:39). Yet it became Jesus’ will, only as Jesus sought to remain attached to His Father. His brothers are expected to follow His example—going by God’s will rather than their own will.
The Holy Spirit—granted to those committed to God’s will—enables them to overcome—just as Jesus overcame. The story of Jesus follows the similar pattern, as we see what happened in Abraham’s story and His son Isaac.
Naturally, Abraham’s son could not have willingly accepted being offered as sacrifice. But he could not resist his Father’s will—having had faith in his father. The following Scripture captures the Son’s sacrificial reality:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”(John 3:16-17) (ESV).
Jesus was the sacrificial lamb—used to save the entire humanity. His Love springs from the fact that God loves humanity—having created them in His own image. Jesus is used as the sacrificial lamb for our redemption. We are expected to walk in Jesus’ ways, so as to also become God’s Children. A person cannot be Christian without first accepting this reality.
The Father celebrated the return of the prodigal son, at the expense of the older son—having served under his father, through and through. Without the services of the faithful son, the father could not have maintained all the wealth that he had. The purpose of a son is to faithfully serve, according to the father’s will. This included being sacrificed for his brother’s redemption.
Those called by God are expected to serve their Father—who is God—similarly to how Jesus served God His Father. Those serving God, do so, not according to their own will, but according to their Father’s will. All this is not done in anticipation of benefits, but as it pleases their Father. The perfect example of serving God was done by Jesus, our Brother. For that reason alone, Jesus becomes our Lord.
Those behaving similarly—serving God—first by following Jesus’ teachings and secondly by allowing God’s Spirit to direct their activities, will also become lords. They will claim the Lordship with Jesus, at the appropriate time. This is why Jesus is said to be the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Revelations 19:16).
When growing up, the prince of any kingdom is taught, specifically, on matters of governance. This prepares the doyen prince on applying proper methods of governance, before taking over the throne. Similarly, those called by God have also got to be prepared—being ready to apply God’s methods of governance.
Christianity, therefore, is not as difficult as most people assume it to be. The difficulty lies in inability to understand the Father’s will—made simple through the activities of Jesus, our brother.
When Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, He intends to draw His followers to accept this simplicity. God intends to bring the entire humanity to the perpetual relationship with Him.
Whatever God intends to do with humanity—as symbolized in the son—coming back from waywardness—is not clear. But, as captured through the father of the prodigal son, the story shows that God is not necessarily interested in the capabilities of His children. He simply wants attachment with His children and treat them as children of His own.
But, as God’s children, humanity bears the inclination of behaving like their Father. This is why learning everything about God is extremely necessary. This was made easy, through the life of Jesus Christ. God’s will is paramount, all the days of our lives. The opposite is as temporary and as useless as everything of this world. We are God’s Children, with all the qualities of Godly nature, just as we were created in God’s image.
This kind of relationship with God is not intended for a season, but perpetual. The term “eternal” has got no expiration. The temporary life is more appetizing, than the idea of living eternally, to most people. Living eternally, sounds like boring, in most people’s finite minds.
But this projects the only purpose for which humanity was created in God’s image. However, nothing is surprising—when others choose death—rather than living perpetually with God who created them in His own image. In His love, God still grants humanity the option to choose death rather than life.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99