The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24) like many of the parables of Jesus, isn't preached much anymore, and there are some reasons for that.
The story, if you've forgotten it, is about a man with two sons, the elder son who was righteous and the younger one who left the path of righteousness, but later returned.
The parable, of course, is about repentance and returning to our Heavenly Father, who will forgive all who turn back to Him.
Jesus was sent by his Father (who is also OUR Father) and we, the younger son, are being called to respond like the Prodigal Son did – with repentance and humility, returning to the Father and begging for forgiveness. God will forgive our sins, but we must first act upon His calling and His offer to receive us again with open arms. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness, nor is there eternal salvation.
Jesus was sent to call the Prodigals among us back to repentance. We are all called to plead on the Father’s behalf, urging all Prodigal sons (and daughters) to return to righteousness.
It is important to understand that Jesus, who was chosen and adopted by God and sent out to be His spokesman and prophet, commanded us to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus calls us to pursue righteousness, to do Good Works in the name of God, Whom we should love with our entire being, and to love and serve our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves.
We must take him at his word. He was not “joking” with us or teasing us as if we could never do what he commanded. We are literally being called to not live like the Prodigal Son, recklessly and without the need to do good and righteous Works.
This parable Jesus is somewhat unpopular with preachers, and with their flocks, because it does not allow us to ever throw our hands up in despair, claiming we cannot do the Good Works and live the righteous life we are commanded to live. Nor are we allowed to vainly throw rags of praise at God while failing to seek the righteousness His Son calls us to seek.
That the older son in the story remained faithful to the father proves that we may indeed obey God in righteousness. It is an easily-missed part of this story that shows that it can be done. Those who are not ill do not require a physician.
Jesus tells us that we are morally able to do Good Works, and that those among us who have become ill by living unrighteously need to seek a physician by returning to the Father.
There, in the house of the Father, we will be accepted with open arms.
Art: The Return of the Prodigal Son; Francesco Bassano the Younger (1559-1592)