Prodigal Son

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The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the greatest teachings in the Bible, illustrating the importance of viewing one's own shortcomings objectively and embarking on a path of self-improvement. The turning point is when the son recognizes and admits to himself that he was applying a double standard against his own father.

This parable appears only in the Gospel of Luke. Like all of Jesus' parables, its message transcends language and cultural differences. The parable, set forth at Luke 15:11-32, is as follows:[1]

Jesus said, "A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of your inheritance.' And his father gave him half of his wealth.
Soon afterward the younger son took everything he could and left for a distant land, where he wasted his life through careless, sinful behavior. But after he had lost everything, a terrible famine struck the land, he began to go hungry. He latched onto a citizen there, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. And he would have given anything to eat the same food that the pigs enjoyed, yet no man gave him anything.
He came to his senses, saying, 'How many of my father's servants have plenty of bread, and yet I'm starving to death!' I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against you, And I am unworthy of being called your son: treat me as you would a hired hand instead.'
And so he got up, and headed back to his father. But when he was still far from home, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran to him, and embraced him, and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against you, and I am unworthy of being called your son.'
But the father said to his servants, 'Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the finest calf here, and butcher it; and let us eat, and celebrate. For my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew near the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And the servant replied, 'Your brother has come home; and your father is serving the finest calf, because he has been returned to him safe and sound.' And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore his father came out, and pleaded with him.
And in answer to his father he said, 'Look, in all these many years I have served you, I have never gone against your will: and yet you never gave me such a feast, that I might celebrate with my friends: But as soon as this son returned, who had squandered his inheritance from you on prostitutes, you've given up your finest calf in honor of him.' And the father responded, saying 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It is fitting that we should celebrate though, and be glad: for this man your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."


The parable has several key elements. The prodigal (wasteful) son does not return until he begins to judge his own conduct and situation objectively.[2] Until that point, he is like others who insist on rejecting God for something far worse than what God routinely provides to everyone, family and worker alike.[3] When the prodigal son does return, his father (God) rushes out to meet him "while he was still a long way off."[4] Finally, God's rejection of his other son's objection shows that God's forgiveness is always available, regardless of inconsistent treatment of those seeking for it.[5] Put another way, it is never too late to ask for forgiveness from God.

Meanwhile, the older son (who never left) refuses to accept his younger brother back into the fold. He complains that despite his faithfulness, he was never given even a young goat for a party (notwithstanding that when the father divided his inheritance, he gave each son his share; thus, the older son -- per custom -- received a double portion, or 2/3 of the estate) while "this son of yours" -- refusing to recognize him as his sibling -- was given the fatted calf. Interpretations for the elder son include people who believe their good works will earn the Father's love, as well as the Jewish leaders themselves.


  1. See Luke 9-16 (Translated)#Chapter 15
  2. Luke 15:13-16
  3. Luke 15:17-20
  4. Luke 15:20 (NIV)
  5. Luke 15:28-32