Prodigal Grace

rembrant prodigal
Rembrant’s Return of the Prodigal Son

The story of the prodigal son is, among other things, an amazing picture of grace. But it equally shows the varied human responses to grace.
In the prodigal son we can see the two typical ways that people relate to life. He begins by demanding what he believes himself to deserve as a son–his inheritance. His request is crass and dismissive of his father.
This is how many people approach life. They believe that they deserve or merit any good that they receive as a result of something inherent within them, within the way the universe works, or within God. Accordingly, they are demanding and offended when they don’t receive what it is they think they have coming.
After squandering his inheritance, the prodigal son swings to the other typical human response. He asks to be given what he thinks he has earned through his behavior. “I am no longer worthy to be called a son. Treat me as a servant.” Now the son is operating on a different system.
Many approach life this way as well, believing that they receive the good they have through their own effort and suffer the consequences of loss as a result of their failures. This is a strictly tit-for-tat economy.
This seems to be the way the prodigal brother believes the world works (or ought to). He believes he has earned his father’s favor and that his brother has earned his father’s dismissal.
The Father, by contrast, offers to both sons what they do not deserve nor could ever earn. He offers grace. Freely offering of himself and his substance with joy.
The sons’ final responses exemplify the two possible responses to grace. Faced with his father’s favor the prodigal son silently receives. Bowled over, perhaps, by his father’s generosity, he utters no word as he is dressed and feted. Faced with the same show of favor, the prodigal brother stridently rejects. He refuses to share in the joy of his father’s favor and at the same time refuses to receive what the father has already given him as proceeding from that same favor.

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