The Penitent Son

Prodigal Son art

“They took my manhood.” Getting raped in prison wasn’t what Marcus dreamed about when he started dealing drugs. In his mind he was chasing the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


“They took my manhood.” Getting raped in prison wasn’t what Marcus dreamed about when he started dealing drugs. In his mind he was chasing the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Marcus had heard that money can’t buy happiness, but he would pursue it with swag while sitting on the biggest rims in town. So what if money can’t buy love, as long as it can rent a lover? It’s a common value system, thus the success of the bumper sticker “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Like many before and since, Marcus’ pursuit of happiness led him into situations that wasted years of his life and revoked his liberties. Not everyone gets physically incarcerated, but circumstances still force them into ways of life they would never have voluntarily embraced.

That is how it was for a young man Jesus talked about long ago (see Luke 15:11-32). This young man was born into a rich family. His father had no mere house, but an estate. Daddy had so much stuff that he needed live-in servants to take care of everything. Even his servants had servants.

The prodigal son enjoyed his daddy’s stuff, but got tired of the old man bossing him around. “Why do I have to work so hard when we have all these servants here?” was one of his recurrent complaints. His father never used clever sayings to try to develop a good work ethic in his son, such as “You only have to do it until you want to do it, and then you’ll never have to do it again.”

They had their fun times as a family, but family get-togethers did not have the same appeal as the parties the son heard about. Finally, the prodigal had enough. He was a grown man, and going to prove it.

He just needed a little head start, and had an idea to net some quick money. He was guaranteed to inherit a portion of his father’s wealth after his father died. No, he didn’t kill his father. However, he did something almost as unthinkable in those days—he demanded his inheritance while his father was still alive. Shockingly, his father complied with his wish. Now the young man could show his father how life was meant to be lived.

The prodigal launched his mission to have all the fun money could buy. He bought his way to the center of attention, and life became one continuous party. For a while he was successful. But suddenly he ran out of money and ran into a famine. We don’t worry much about famines in America, but we run into unforeseen medical emergencies, recessions, stock market crashes, upside-down housing, and governmental shutdowns.

The popularity the prodigal enjoyed during prosperity evaporated in adversity.

His e-mail was blocked as spam. He was no longer liked, friended, or followed. His involuntary solitude forced him to accept that his boys weren’t really friends, and his partners didn’t really love him. While at home, he thought he was missing out on the good life. Now he couldn’t even get a good meal.

A Jewish man taking care of pigs—could it get any worse? While wishing he could eat some of the pigs’ food, suddenly it hit him that he had lost his Jewishness as well as his manhood. His heart was overwhelmed with a sense of alienation from both humans and God. How could he sink so low?

Most translations give the prodigal son too much credit by saying he “joined himself” to a farmer (Luke 15:15). The Greek phrase translated here is passive, literally meaning “he was joined.” The difference is that he didn’t initiate the action.

This job didn’t result from him diligently filling out applications and choosing between various options. His hand was forced. It was customary that when you couldn’t pay your bills, you were required to work for your creditors until the value of your labor paid for what you had already spent.

Servitude taught the prodigal son that freedom consists largely of choosing who our master will be (Luke 16:13). The main thing we are in charge of is our choices. After that, the consequences of our choices are in charge of us (see Romans 6:16-23).

Having learned this lesson, he was ready to go home. He felt unworthy of his former status as a son and would gladly offer lifelong labor to atone for his former rebellion. He rehearsed his apology and practiced his plea as he shuffled home in shame.

As the now-penitent son approached the father’s house, his dad abandoned the dignified strut of the rich and sprinted toward his son with so much momentum that his hug turned into a tackle. The Bible says he “fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 16:20). Before the son could offer his services, the father had him cleaned up and dressed like royalty. He placed the family signet ring upon the son’s finger, restoring all family privileges fully.

The father went beyond restoring his son to his former status by promoting him as if he had been faithful the whole time. The penitent son discovered true freedom through submission to his father’s will. He would always remember that birthright was lost through evading responsibility, and restored through pursuing responsibility. He was amazed that his father turned out to know how to live a fulfilled and fun life after all.

Whenever we feel that we have lost everything important to us, let’s remember our heavenly Father is eager to restore us and throw a party “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). So why not come back home?

Between 1.6 million and 2.8 million youths run away from home yearly, according to federal statistics.

In the United States runaways can call the National Runaway Safeline for help. The number is 1-800-RUNAWAY or 1-800-786-2929. This federally funded program can supply medical assistance, bus rides home, and/or help communicating with parents or guardians when a young person is not ready to return home. For more information, see


Carl mcroy, an ordained minister and author of Yell at God and Live! writes from Atlanta, Georgia. You can interact with his blog at

Day 1 -Read Luke 15:11-13

Jesus walked the earth during the time of Greco-Roman history, when fathers passed on to their children portions of their belongings. This, however, would not happen until the father was about to die. So it appears that the youngest son was more interested in what he could get out of his father than the actual relationship that he had with him. Before we judge the “selfish” son, think of a time you may have been more interested in the things that God offers, rather than your actual functioning relationship with Him.  If your situation was documented for others to read, would you be seen as selfish? Share it with us at Message via roundedinstagram Instagram, roundedfacebook Facebook, 

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Day 2 - Read Luke 15:14-16

It seems as if God allows people who used to follow Him to actually enjoy their new way of life, absent from Him or, more accurately, outside of His will for them. At the height of this experience God seems to remind them of how life really is without His shield of protection. You think you finally got away with something, or you think that so many things have gone right that nothing can go wrong. God has a way of reminding us that the world is truly evil and unforgiving. Has there ever been a time in your life that you were heading down a wrong path and God, seemingly out of nowhere, reminded you of the hazards of being unprotected by Him? Share it with us at Message via roundedinstagram Instagram, roundedfacebook Facebook, 

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Day 3 - Read Luke 15:17-19

Sometimes when people think they have come back to their senses, they are still foggy-minded. How difficult would it be for that person to recognize their own fogginess and mistaken thinking? Next to impossible. Here we see the prodigal son in a place that has brought him to submission and eating out of the food for pigs. Is it possible for us, at this very moment, to be suffering from the same condition as the prodigal? This text reveals that eventually the son came to his senses. Have we come to our own? Sit down and write out what you believe God has sent you to accomplish. After doing this, write out what steps you have taken, and are taking toward the accomplishment of that end. If you are truly honest with yourself, you may be surprised at how much better your unconscious thoughts are, compared to your actions concerning your personal duty to God. Are you in a pigpen and don’t even know it? Perhaps it is time for you to come to your senses.

Day 4 -Read Luke 15:20, 21

Many times in our communication process with God we find that we do all of the talking. We may say “thank you” or “please be with” so-and-so asking for extra care for someone else, and maybe even the occasional “help me” with some issue that we think is the cause of our current situation. What would a prayer be without us doing all of the talking, and instead taking the position of being a listener? It makes one wonder about what God may have been actually trying to say to us for years, but just hasn’t had the chance because of our usual one-sided prayer technique. Go to God in prayer and simply enjoy being in His presence, and pay close attention to the message that He may be trying to send to you.


Day 5 - Read Luke 15:22-24

Is it easy for you to go through an entire day, and maybe an entire week, without realizing that you are a child of the Most High God? With all of the hustle and clamor that fills our lives, it may be difficult to always have such an extraordinary fact on our minds. I can only imagine the look on the son’s face when his father made such claims concerning his plans for him now that he was back at home. For the remainder of this week, make an honest effort every hour to remind yourself that you are an actual heir to the heavenly throne and a child of God. At the end of this week, let us at Message know how the remainder of your weekdays have gone via roundedinstagram Instagram, roundedfacebook Facebook, 

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Day 6 -Read Luke 15:25-30

Someone has been working at your job for less time than you have and got a promotion. Someone who failed to study for a test did better on it than you did. You are sincerely interested in a person with whom you have been friends for a long time, but all they ever talk about is being with someone else. Life always has a way of appearing to be unfair. This is especially true when it comes to things that we believe that we are more qualified for receiving.  Sometimes the people who try the least get rewarded more than people that give their all. Jobs go to people based on relationship and not effectiveness. Good grades go to students who may have had a good guessing day, yet you spent all night studying. That person that you would give your all for is only interested in the person that you know will not treat them as good as you would—if you had the chance. How do you respond to such occurrences? Do they resemble the responses of the eldest son? Make a list of some of the situations in which this has occurred for you and let us know via roundedinstagram Instagram, roundedfacebook Facebook, 

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Day 7 -Read Luke 15:31, 32

This may actually be the saddest part of the story. The father makes it clear to the apparently jealous eldest son that he has always been accepted and taken care of as long as he was there. One would think that the person who has been with morality and reason for the longest should be the one who is well acquainted with a pure character. This, however, is nothing new. The disciples were with Jesus for His entire earthly ministry, and kept contention in their hearts, self-sufficiency on their minds, and swords underneath their robes. Now that we have been with God for a little while, are there things that we are still keeping that He may want us to let go of? Think of something that you were doing before you were converted to Him, and are still doing. Is it something that causes tension between the secular and the sacred? If it does, perhaps it is time to stop resembling the eldest son in the story and simply be happy with the fact that God has, and always will provide our sufficiency.



Marcus burden is a senior theology major at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.


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