Financial Teachings in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32

sonThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 15:11-32. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the most written and preached about parable. Perhaps you know this parable for showing the grace God extends to us; the image of God running to us when we have turned towards him in our life journey. This story teaches us many lessons, and it has compelled the hearts of many classical painters, such as this one from Rembrandt. God teaches us in this parable how reaping and sowing co-exist quite comfortably with grace.

 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

There are three central characters in this parable: the father, who represents Jesus; the good son; and the prodigal son. The good son, by most measures, was a man of good character and hard work. Farm work is very difficult; it has a lot of delayed gratification–plowing and planting, and many months of waiting for harvest. Family agricultural operations often stay in the family for many generations. Ownership is passed on to heirs, usually after they have worked alongside parents until the parents are very old. The good son knew and lived by the principle of reaping and sowing. This is a principle throughout Scripture and can easily be seen through observation, especially by farmers.  Reaping and sowing is a system that God laid down when he created the universe. It initially represents two things: investing, or planting, AND a return that is not just equal to the ingredients of effort, seed, rain, air, fertilizer and soil. God’s plan is for man to be involved in most of the applications of these elements to create a harvest that is much more than originally invested–man and God working together co-creatively to produce more growth. The good son got this; he believed and lived by these principles.

The prodigal son didn’t get this at all. He didn’t want to follow the way of delayed gratification that the good son did. He demanded his inheritance now while he was young, so that he could go off into the world to seek adventure and pleasure. He spent it all, dined with pigs, and returned home penniless in rags and filth. From far off the father saw that he was returning home, and he ran after him and embraced him in love. He threw a party for him, and showed him much affection. God here is revealing the other side of the coin of reaping and sowing abundantly, that of grace.

Grace is in the heart of God and what we have through Jesus. Grace is getting salvation and his eternal presence even though we don’t deserve it, or we haven’t earned it by reaping and sowing. Grace is the boundless love that he gives us. It is also the gift of life, eternity, and all of creation throughout the universe. It is the good things he gives us in life today, the miracles and gifts, even though we haven’t earned them by reaping and sowing. It is two sides of one coin –the natural laws of reaping/sowing, and the gift of grace. They exist together, the ‘both and’ approach to the gospel.

And that is how we are to approach our personal finances. On one hand, we are to have integrity, discipline, honesty, and hard work, and on the other hand, we are to be willing to have delayed gratification and patience, knowing that our God is watching us, and will reward us bountifully. I see it in the lives of small business owners, who toil much more than 40 hours a week; they might not earn much of a profit for many of the early years. I see it too in those working in offices and in manual labor. On the other hand, we will experience many gifts, opportunities, and financial miracles too. This is one of the essential themes I write about here on; in some ways we are to be like the good son, and, like the prodigal son, we are to aware of unearned, undeserved grace and blessings. God is good, he loves us, and he wants us to be both good stewards in the systems of nature he created because we love him and enjoy his amazing miracles. For those digging out of financial difficulty by establishing good principles of budgeting, saving, giving, and staying out of debit, the principles of reaping, sowing and bounty will pay off. Discipline, hard work and integrity are essential. Likewise, God will grant us miracles and grace along the way. Be encouraged!

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-sixth post in this series.

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