Most of us are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal is a younger of two sons who asked for his inheritance early. He took it and spent all that he had recklessly. When a famine hit, he hired himself out to someone and was feeding pigs. We often miss the grotesqueness of this image because we don’t consider pigs “unclean” like Jews did. It was highly offensive for someone to work for a farmer who raised pigs. Yet the prodigal worked among the pigs and even longed to eat from their trough.
The scene Jesus paints is one of embarrassment and despair. The prodigal had hit rock bottom. He wore shame like a blanket. Luke records, “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against haven and before you” (Luke 15:17-18 ESV).
The prodigal did, in fact, return home. When he was a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him. He ran and embraced him. Then he told his servants to kill the fattened calf and dress the son in the best robe. The older son was infuriated that his father would give preferential treatment to the irresponsible brother who squandered all of their dad’s money. But the father replied, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (vs. 31-32). God is a God of grace and always prefers to see his children come back to him.