Luke 16 – Prodigal Brothers and a Gracious Father

This post is part of an on-going series meant to compliment the wonderful commentary provided in D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Vol 1, which tracks along with the M’Cheyne reading plan.  The links to both the reading plan and a free PDF of Carson’s book are available here.


Return of the Prodigal, etching by Rembrandt, 1636

The prodigal son is one of the most beloved stories of Jesus.  The story resonates within people, whether they know Jesus or not.  Even so, there is something quite sweet for Christians within the parable, as the story itself seems to pattern each of our lives.  Not all parables can work on us like this one can; not many own vineyards (Luke 13:6-9); not all of us have given great banquets (Luke 14:12-24); not many of us have thoroughly cheated our boss (Luke 16:1-9, a story for another day to be sure!).  But all of us have turned from God in sin, failing to give him glory and tasting our own destruction in the world.  This is not simply a story that we can relate to, as those parables listed above.  Those are stories of others that we might empathize with.  We do not need to empathize with the prodigal – we have, each in our own way, lived it out.  We sense, in no small way, that this not just a story to relate to but it is a retelling of our own story.

However, this can blindside us a bit to the other realities of the parable.  One of the most beautiful things about parables is their flexibility.  Let us be careful to not only see ourselves in one role in the parable, here specifically as the younger brother, who has run away to wallow in his own sin.  There are two others that we must pay attention to, as well!

Let us never forget that we are often also the prideful, jealous older brother, holding the sins of others over their heads, pleading for our own recognition and selfish ambition, rejecting the joy we ought to have for what has been found and instead brooding over our own sense of injustice.  Jesus’ parable insists that a prodigal does not just run from the Father, but is far from him in attitude and outlook, even if close in proximity.  Notice, however, just as there is no rejection of the prodigal that has come home, neither is there rejection of the prodigal who stayed.  “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours!” (16:31).  Friend, do not let bitterness and pride keep you from the joy of your Father; enter in and feast!

Christian, also never forget that you are always to act like the Father here.  There are other fathers we might emulate, and the results are disastrous for both us and others.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him… (John 8:44, ESV)

After all, the previous parables in Luke 16, which are clearly connected, are centered around the rejoicing of the one who found that which was lost (lost sheep, 16:3-7; lost coin 16:8-10).  Let us, then, do the hard work of finding the lost, carrying them and clearing a path for them, to return to the Lord! Let us be quick to forgive their pasts and rejoice; for they were dead, and are alive; lost, and are found!

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV)