- the regular story of redemption and love
- the dramatic retelling where the speaker puts himself in a modern-day twist on the tale
- the sermon with the historical and cultural background (like how by asking for his inheritance the younger brother was telling his father that he was dead to him, how a respectable father would never pull up his robes and run, etc.)
- the message as related to Rembrandt's painting of the son and father's reunion
The Prodigal Son is one of those stories Jesus told where I find myself identifying with each of the characters:
1. There are plenty of times in life when I'm the younger son. He's the one who wants what the world has to offer. He turns his back on the love found at home so that he can see what else is out there. He wants to enjoy life no matter what the cost. He's selfish and greedy. I have been that younger son more times than I like to admit.
2. When I was younger I thought the older son was in the right. After all, he was respectful and faithful to his father, but he didn't get a feast or any recognition. I have clearly identified with him. And I still do at times--times when I desire recognition for my good deeds, when I want to see justice happen, when I am feeling righteously indignant. The older brother was short-sighted, self-centered, and judgmental. I, too, have been him far too many times.
3. And now as a father myself, I can identify with the father in the story. I may not be perfect, but I know that on some level I will love my sons no matter what they do.
I think as a child, I often thought the word "prodigal" had to do with running away and returning. The word actually refers to being recklessly extravagant, lavish, or giving profusely. The younger son, of course, was wastefully extravagant.
But the real lavishness comes from the father. Indeed, currently the trend is to call the story "The Prodigal Father." That's where the real point of the story lies--in how great the Father's love is. I think if we (I) can grasp that, we've gotten the whole point of the Bible, the whole point of Jesus' incarnation. May we be as prodigal in our love as well.