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 end at the point of being buried.
Also, due to infidelity and other complications, humanity’s, Father-Son relationship is limited. But the truth remains in that humanity’s true origin is not necessarily of earthly parents.
Physical humans carry temporary existence, not lasting beyond graves. 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, to those created in His own image. The Godly attributes can be found in humanity. Unfortunately, what currently prevails is resistance to that reality, by the same humanity.
Through instructing His disciples, Jesus revealed that human fathers have nothing to do with 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 among the most important pieces of data, ever released throughout His teachings. But it takes some revelation to understand, though clearly stated in black and white. Most of Jesus’ teachings were in parables—used in order to hide the significance—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 teachings of Jesus were not intended for ordinary people to understand. Lest they turn and be forgiven. Jesus did not intend for humanity to turn and be forgiven—before appreciating the responsibility involved (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 to what true Christianity entails. Preaching in parables meant the rest of humanity would not understand—serve for those having left everything to follow Christ. These are the people, to whom Jesus said 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 dishonouring parents. Honouring one’s parents is considered virtuous and Godly. But Jesus is telling His disciples to desist from that. He could not have said this to ordinary people.
The earthly fathers of the disciples were, actually, not their parents. Like Jesus, the disciples would owe allegiance to their Heavenly Father. The Prodigal Son parable clarifies this reality. The Father of that prodigal Son is God, whose prodigal Son refers to humanity.
Allegorically, Jesus represents the Son who remained faithful to his father. Jesus’ crucifixion experience denotes the momentary rejection, by His Father. This is displayed by the behaviour of the faithful son (Luke 15:25-32). The Father had equally loved both His sons—but displaying joy after the return of his lost son.
The loving Father overlooks the sins of the prodigal, treating him as though he never sinned. The faithful son, who had always been with His father, naturally feels contemptible with that behaviour. 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 not having sinned. On that parable, the older brother feels neglected—as if being penalised for being faithful to his father.
On hearing his grumbling, his father quickly assures him of the fact that everything belonging to the father was his (Luke 15:31). The older brother’s grievances are understandable, including his apparent failure to understand celebrating the wayward brother’s return. It is easy to assume that the older brother was jealous.
Yet all humans 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 perpetual commitment to serve him. 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 dishonourable treatment by his father. The one who deserved dishonourable treatment was the wayward son, then being celebrated honourably.
That question: Why have you forsaken me? Is not different from the grumblings of the older brother, surmising God’s apparent inconsiderate behaviour. Nothing shows exactly, how the returning prodigal son felt of his lavish treatment, at the expense of his faithful brother? But by celebrating his return, the father appeared as momentarily forsaking his elder brother?
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, assuring Him that everything was His. In three days’ time, Jesus would be resurrected, claiming all authority, in Heaven and on earth, had become His. (Matthew 28:18).
The prodigal son—represented in the wayward humanity—is celebrated heartily by the Loving Father. But there is no question about Jesus—having all along, remained faithful to His Father—ever being forsaken. This is factual but misunderstood by those removing Jesus from being a brother—making Him a Trinitarian member.
The story of humanity is lost—right at the point of failing to appreciate the role of Jesus. As our brother and not our Father, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Specifically, Jesus implied that He represented everything necessary 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). This 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—grants those committed to God’s will—enabling overcoming—just as Jesus overcame. The story of Jesus follows a similar pattern, as happened in Abraham’s story and His son Isaac.
Naturally, Abraham’s son could not have willingly accepted being offered as a sacrifice. But he could not resist his Father’s will—having had faith in his father, as captured in the sacrificial reality of Jesus:
“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 God’s love for humanity—having created them in His own image. Jesus is used as the sacrificial lamb. We are expected to walk in His paths, 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—who had served under his father, perpetually. Without the services of the faithful son, the father could not have maintained His glamourous wealth. 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 His Father. Those serving, do so, not according to their own will, but according to God’s will. All this is not done in anticipation of benefits, but as pleasing 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—by following Jesus’ teachings and allowing God’s Spirit to direct their activities, will also become lords. They will claim Lordship with Jesus, at the appropriate time. This is why Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelations 19:16).
When growing up, an heir 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 also get 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 the 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 a perpetual relationship with Him.
Whatever God intends to do with humanity—as symbolized in the returning prodigal son—is not clear. But, as captured through the father of the prodigal son, God is not necessarily interested in the capabilities of His children. He simply wants attachment with His children, treating them as His own.
As God’s children, humanity potentially behaves like their Father. This is why learning everything about God is extremely necessary. This was made easy, through the life of Jesus. God’s will is paramount, all the days of our lives. The opposite is as temporary and as useless as everything in 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 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 the 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