"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate."
(Luke 15:20-24)

Now there's my favorite parable. I know, I know. Predictable. I don't care. Fact is, that parable more closely resembles my life than any other. It's almost spooky, it's so doggone accurate.

But on my way to work tonight, listening to Keith Green's song "The Prodigal Son Suite," -- which is most excellent, by the way -- something struck me that never had before: the son's father gave him the very tools he used to nearly ruin his life.

It's an integral part of the story, but I'd always dismissed it as a plot point. The real story was how the son abandonded his upbringing in favor of visceral experience.

Maybe I'm not explaining myself well -- it happens. Let's look at it from the metaphoric perspective instead. After all, that's what parables were.

In telling the story, Jesus symbolizes our journey from the depths of sin to the redeption that's found in His grace. At the most basic level, it's a metaphor for our being born into unlimited potential through a life in Him but, because of man's sin nature, that potential is squandered and can only be redeemed by the recognition that our life's most basic need is a relationship with The Father.

But what about those of us for whom the story of The Prodigal Son is deeply personal? It's that way for me. For me, it's more than a story that I was born into sin and that, as a young boy, I realized it, asked for forgiveness and for the strength to live for Him. It's because I lived for Him, then threw Him aside like so much lint out of my pocket. And it's why the realization that God gave me certain skills and gifts and talents that actually allowed me to do a greater disservice to Him is so painful. After all, what greater insult to God than to take those divinely appointed skills and squander them? Aaron was a gifted public speaker, endowed by God. The modern equivalent is if he were to use it as a foul-mouthed comedian.

Hence, we see here another level of tragedy to an already tragic story.

Ah, but with God, there's always a silver lining. And it is this: despite knowing that we can use our resources for personal gain at the cost to the Kingdom, God still endows us with those tools He deems it necessary to see that His work is done and that He is glorified. That's a beautiful reality, because it is yet another example of His boundless love. He sees our potential for Him, not our potential for the world.

What we have, then, is a story of redepmtion, love -- and divine optimis

(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail ephesians514@gmail.com for reprinting information.)