The parable of the Prodigal Son has been called the gospel within the gospel, the most beautiful short story ever told. It is found only in Luke (15:11–32), and if it alone was in that Gospel it would be worth the whole book. I believe that at the heart of this story Jesus Christ has described in words—as he described in the deeds of his life, death, and resurrection—what the heart of God the Father is like. The parable speaks of a human father, but Jesus is telling it from close acquaintance with God the Father. It is worthwhile to consider the story line by line.

Now a certain man had two sons (v. 11).

This parable has come home to me recently. I have two sons. One is out of adolescence, and one should be. Like so many oldest children, my older son is the “good one.” (The good one turns out to be bad in this story, so “good” belongs in quotation marks.) Our oldest son has always been the more mature one in doing what he’s told. Our second son is more spunky and rebellious. Parents think of the obedient, mature-acting older sons as somehow better, but it is striking that the “good” older brother is the deep problem in this story. Under consideration now, though, is the younger.

The younger of the two sons came to his father and he said to him, “Father, please give me that part of the inheritance which is mine” (v. 12).

The younger brother came to his father and said, “Father.” I’m pleased that he addresses him that way. The older brother’s speech at the end of the passage is not as respectful.

But the younger brother asks, “Father, please give me that part of the inheritance which belongs to me.” Isn’t this the vocabulary ...

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