Lessons from “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”
In Luke 15:11-32, we have the famous parable about the prodigal son. It is a story with two sons and a father who welcomes the younger son back after he wasted his inheritance on “wild living” (Luke 15:13b, NIV). This story lives in our pop culture when talking about someone who goes away under bad circumstances to only return “home.”
“The Prodigal Has Return!” they proclaim.
I wonder how many here as faithful spouses have heard this parable twisted to mean you must take back your adulterous spouse. God took back the younger son after a season of wild living after all. We should follow His example welcoming back our prodigal spouse. That is how the reasoning goes.
However, this reasoning is seriously flawed.
The application of this story to mean an insistence upon taking back an adulterous spouse glosses over some very important elements of the story. It fails to take into account the change that took place in the younger son’s heart from the time he demanded his inheritance from his father to the time the father welcomed him back home. This is a major oversight.
We watch the younger son mature from a place of entitlement to a place of humility. He goes from demanding his inheritance from his father to a place in the pigsty where he is willing to take a servant’s place in his father’s household as a gracious gift from his father. Remember, the younger son says in the pigsty:
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ -Luke 15:18-19, NIV
So, I see two prodigals the character known as the younger son: 1)the pre-pigsty younger son and 2)the post-pigsty younger son. And I contend Jesus did not teach us that God embraced the pre-pigsty younger son rather he let that one go (another lesson for another time, perhaps). They were different responses to an individual presenting different character. Such ought to be our response as well. We need to be able to read character in order to apply the lessons of this parable correctly.
So, we must ask when applying this to situations with adulterous spouses:
Is this a pre-pigsty prodigal or a post-pigsty prodigal?
Here’s a few clues as to how to spot the difference:
1. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not make demands from his or her spouse.
He/she recognizes like the post-pigsty prodigal son that he does not deserve the grace of continuing in the marriage or with the spouse he wronged through committing adultery. The post-pigsty son did not run to the father demanding his place as a son seizing the family ring and mantle. No! He realized he had sinned and accepted that he did not deserve the mercy and grace his father gave him. In other words, he was no longer entitled but humble. The welcoming back to the marriage (or to working on the marriage) must be met by the understanding in the adulterous spouse that this is as extravagant and undeserving of a gift as was the father’s to the post-pigsty prodigal. If it is not, then you are dealing with a pre-pigsty prodigal spouse.
2. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not try to blame-shift or “justify” his or her sin. He or she owns the sin completely.
I wonder how this story would go if the prodigal son’s speech to the father was: “You always liked my elder brother more than me. That’s what drove me away. I just couldn’t watch one more day of you playing favorites with my elder brother!” My suspicion is that the father might have walked away at that point. Who knows? What we do know is that none of this took place in the story. The prodigal son owned his poor choices completely and did not try to blame-shift onto another person–neither onto his father or onto his elder brother. He recognized he was responsible alone for his sin. A post-pigsty prodigal spouse will recognize and take 100% ownership of his/her adulterous sin (lies included). If they do not, then you are still dealing with a pre-pigsty prodigal spouse.
3. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not try to minimize what he or she did.
He or she realizes the sin is against both God and his/her spouse (see vv 18). And the adulterous spouse does not try to make little of what he or she did. The post-pigsty prodigal recognized his behavior meant he deserved to be disowned as a son. That was justice, and the prodigal son recognized that. He did not approach his father with the plan to convince him that what he did wasn’t that bad! His plan was to throw himself at the mercy of his father because he realized that he deserved nothing from him after the way he had acted.
To apply this to situations with adulterous spouses, the post-pigsty adulterous spouse will recognize the just thing for the faithful spouse to do is to divorce him or her. They will not seek to convince the faithful spouse that what they did wasn’t that bad. Instead, they will take a place of humility and recognized they need mercy from their spouse for the marriage to not end in divorce. Any adulterous spouse seeking to demonstrate that their adultery (and lies) weren’t so bad is still stuck as a pre-pigsty prodigal.
So, when thinking about “The Parable of Prodigal Son,” do not miss the crucial and dynamic change that takes place in the younger son. If you miss that change, then you are apt to misapply the lesson and further enable the sinner to sin. So, next time take a pause and ask yourself about the prodigal in front of you:
Is this a pre-pigsty prodigal or a post-pigsty prodigal?
The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world in applying God’s Word aptly and justly. May those who have eyes to see, see. And may those who have ears to hear, hear. Amen.