The Prodigal’s Request

Photo via Emre Danisman

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”

Luke 15:11-12

When you read a passage like that, how do you hear Jesus’ voice? Is he speaking casually or earnestly? Does he have the big booming voice of a hellfire preacher, or the soft-spoken voice of a father to his infant son?

Do you ever wonder how his listeners are responding? We get no sense from the text here. Verse 13 on just continues the story Jesus is telling. But what he said most likely shocked his audience, even though we don’t necessarily get that from the passage.

You are probably overly familiar with this story. You have probably heard before how the younger son is not simply asking Dad for money to go live on his own. He is saying something much harsher.

Essentially he is saying, “Father, I want nothing more to do with you. I want to completely sever our relationship. You are dead to me.”

This would not necessarily shock Jesus’ audience. This would not be unheard of. There were sons that hated their fathers. There were sons that wanted their fathers dead, some who had even killed their fathers themselves. It was rare; it was tragic, but not unheard of.

What would have shocked them was the father’s response, which Jesus seems to mention so casually, as if it’s the most natural reaction to the prodigal’s request: “So he divided his property between them.”

In the real world, this is crazy. Who responds like this?

“You want me dead, child of my heart?

“Though this will kill me, I will be as one dead to you: you are released from all your obligations as my son, and I will immediately bestow upon you your share of all I presently own.”

In the face of such outright disrespect and hatred, what human father would respond like this? And with such humility and strength of grace?

This would have caused the Pharisees to audibly gasp. Especially because they understood Jesus’ story was not about a human father, but about the Most High God.

And the prodigal’s request coupled with the father’s response reveals the great mystery of life.

When God created earth and humanity, He did something remarkably vulnerable. I’m not sure vulnerable is the right word, but it’s the best word I have.

God made it so we would rule the earth for Him and under Him, but He also made it possible for us to say to Him, “I want nothing to do with you. I want to completely sever our relationship. You are dead to me.”

He made it possible for us to, in a sense, kick Him out of being in charge here on earth. To put it another way, He allowed us to create hell on earth.

This is the worst about the human race. The worst about you and me. We have all had the same conversation the prodigal had with his father.

And God always answers the same.

Though His heart breaks each time, He lets us go.

Though He controls all, He willingly relinquishes controlling us, even though it leads to our death.

He lets us leave, but the story does not end here…