I’ve been looking at the parable of the prodigal son in a new way lately (Luke 15:11-32). I think it’s more a parable of the hired hand.
“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'” (Luke 15:18-19)
Twice the prodigal son says this. Once to himself as he is rehearsing what he will say when he returns home and once when he actually sees his father.
And this is the older brother’s response:
“…but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29, emphasis mine)
I think for many Christians, we have made ourselves the hired hand. We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior but we can’t accept God’s lavish grace. We don’t deserve to be rescued. We must do something to make up for it. We OWE God.
So we make ourselves the hired hand. We slave away in service to God but many of us don’t understand that He is not demanding works from us.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6); which Jesus quotes twice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).
I know I certainly have lived that way. And my ‘works’ were based on fear – fear that I would not be ‘good enough’ for God, that He would not accept me if I didn’t behave in an ‘acceptable’ way. But as I’ve let go of striving and trying to be ‘good’ and simply…accepted…grace… I can be more like the prodigal son when he returned home. He accepted the party his father threw for him. He received the Father’s free gift.
What would have happened if the prodigal son had dug in his heels and said to the Father, “Absolutely not! You can’t throw this party for me. I don’t deserve it. I’m making myself your hired hand and that’s that!” I think we subconsciously do that to God.
And the older brother, the ‘good’ one, didn’t understand either. He stayed behind and was faithful to the Father, but he didn’t see himself as the free recipient of the Father’s riches. He saw himself as a slave, as a hired hand (“…all these years I’ve slaved for you…” Luke 15:29).
And yet…”His father said to him, ‘…everything I have is yours.'” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine)
Do we understand that everything God has is ours without having to work for it? That we can cease our striving and rest in grace? Or do we live our lives as hired hands?