Can we see for a moment just what dilemma this poor father is going through? He has one son that obeys him like a servant and expects to get his inheritance as though it can be earned, and he has another son that doesn’t want to obey him and expects his inheritance before his father dies. The contrast is simple. On the one hand we have salvation by works apart from faith motivated by love. On the other, we have the expressed desire to maintain a permissive, disobedient lifestyle of the libertine who thinks he can live forever apart from his father.
Why doesn’t the father go seeking after his son? Day after day he gives commands to his servants and remaining son, then sits on the front porch yearning for his lost son–yes, even mourning him as though he were dead. Weeks, months, even years go by, and the servants along with the “stay-at-home” son daily see the grief borne by the father. Why don’t the servants or the “stay-at-home” son go seeking after the wayward young man?
The influences of God’s love are imperceptible. His Holy Spirit works like the wind. Eventually, the son comes to his senses. He is convicted by his father’s love to return home. “The son determines to confess his guilt. He will go to his father, saying, ‘I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ But he adds, showing how stinted is his conception of his father’s love, ‘Make me as one of thy hired servants.'” (Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 202.) Even though his conception of his father’s love is “stinted,” he is truly humbled to even think he may be undeserving of employment as a hired hand. This is consistent with Scripture, which states, “… but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” KJV, Isaiah 66:2.
But what of the servants? When the “stay-at-home” son hears the party noise, he stops a servant to question him of the reason for the joyful sounds after years of hearing nothing but grief.
It appears that the hired hand is not entirely truthful about the recent events. True, he relates that the brother has come home. But, he says nothing about the brother’s contrition and willingness to serve the father as a servant. The grace shown the wayward son is absolutely wasted, so far as the “stay-at-home” brother is concerned.
He is quite adamant that he has obeyed all of his father’s commands. But his condition is similar to another, a rich young ruler who asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. The Bible says of that ruler, “He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” KJV, Matthew 19:18-22, emphasis added.
This rich young ruler claimed to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and yet he was unwilling to give his riches to the poor around him.
What keeps us from the deception of selfishness? Will we go out in search of our wayward, prodigal brothers and sisters? Or will we go on serving God with drudgery of heart because our own sense of decorum prevents us from demonstrating selfishness in precisely the same way as the prodigal?