The most repeated of human tragedies

Published 3:00 pm Sunday, February 20, 2022

“Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood . And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.’”— Luke 15:11-13 (NKJV)


This is a tragedy that should be considered for first place as the most repeated of human tragedies — at least the first part. The ending is not at all a common occurrence after the tragedy begins as did this one. 

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Our prodigal son begins his life of waste by insulting and disrespecting his father by asking for his inheritance prematurely. To ask for his inheritance while his father was still living is to say to his father, “You’re worth more to me dead. Give me what will be mine at your death.” How the man must have grieved at his son’s obvious disrespect for his authority, and his lack of loyalty to the entire family.

We don’t know the time frame of this parable, it may have covered many years, or just a few months; that is not really significant to the parable’s message. What is very significant is the fact that the prodigal son came to his senses and realized that he would be far better off as one of his father’s servants. He knew that he must return to his father and take his just punishment (vs. 17-19). 

As he traveled home, the prodigal was probably rehearsing his plea to his father (haven’t we all done a similar thing when facing certain punishment?). Over and over he said the words that he hoped would spark compassion from the father that he had so terribly insulted; maybe, just maybe he would let him live as a hired servant.

As he approached his father’s house he saw the old man running toward him (vs. 20-24). Even as he began his plea for forgiveness, his father, oblivious to his speech, began shouting orders to his servants. Prepare the fatted calf! Bring a robe! Sandals for his feet! And a ring for his hand! 

“For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

This parable quickly becomes the tragic story of all who have walked away from God. It is an even greater tragedy that so few return only to find God running to meet them.


Bobby Thornhill is a retired Methodist preacher.