I was recently reading the story of the prodigal son in Luke Chapter 15 and it naturally led me to thinking about rebellion and why we (and more specifically I) rebel. For those not familiar with the story of the prodigal son or in need of a refresher it is the story of the younger son of a presumably wealthy landowner who demands that his father give him a share of his inheritance before his father passes and then proceeds to squander it completely and sell himself into servitude feeding pigs (Luke 15:11-16). He finally comes to his senses and seeks his father’s forgiveness and is surprisingly (to me anyways) received with open arms and even a celebratory feast (Luke 15:20-24).
When I read about the father’s very gracious reaction the only thing that comes to mind is “Why?” Why did this younger son rebel? What was driving him to do it? It appears that his father was a merciful and kind man. I imagine rebellion as occurring in response to what is unjust and wrong. Who rebels against a just father? Let’s take a look at the text to see if we can get some clarity on this question.
“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.”Luke 15:11-12
The man had two sons. So we already see here a tension forming, a potential sibling rivalry that brings to mind the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob and Joseph and his brothers. We are not given much detail as to the relationship between these two brothers but it may be that part of the reason the younger son wanted to get the share of the estate immediately was that he wanted to remove himself not only from the shadow of his father but also his older brother.
In those times the name of the family and its identity were given to the firstborn son. It may be that the younger son was rebelling from his just father because he did not want to be second fiddle to his brother. The younger son wanted to carve out his own identity because he may not have felt he had one of his own. This contention is supported by what the son does once he receives the money.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”Luke 15:13 (emphasis mine)
The younger son felt like he had to get out of there. Once again another Old Testament story is called to mind, that of Abraham moving out of Ur and away from his family to Canaan, to establish a new identity for himself as a Hebrew (Genesis 12:1-9). However, this younger son did not heed the call of God but his own selfish call. He called himself out of a good land into a sinful one and not the other way around. I think he was searching for himself, perhaps he felt like a foreigner in his own family and so he felt he had to travel to a foreign land to fit in. However, he soon comes to realize that this land is not his home and will not treat him with the mercy his father would.
“About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and [the younger son] began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.“Luke 15:14-16 (emphasis mine)
Whatever the younger son was seeking, my guess is he didn’t find it amongst the pigs. Although perhaps being amongst the pigs made him realize the position of privilege he had left behind. Whatever the reason, at some point the situation appears to prompt a change of heart in him.
” ‘When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 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.’ “Luke 15:20-21
As I mentioned in the summary, the son is embraced by his father and welcomed back with a feast. All is forgiven. However, the older son is not happy about this because his father never threw a feast for him even though the older son was always obedient to his father. The father’s response actually gives us the answer to the question the younger son was presumably seeking to answer for himself about his identity.
” ‘We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’ “Luke 15:32 (emphasis mine)
The younger son was presumably rebelling because he was searching for himself, he was trying to find his identity. His problem was that he was trying to find his identity in himself and had cut himself off from his father as a result of his choice to break away from his family. The son’s identity was not in himself, at least not completely. His identity was tied up in his father and, more specifically, realizing who his father was, that his father was a good and just man. So long as he could realize his father’s goodness and be thankful for it instead of rejecting it he had life because he saw things correctly. When he blinded himself to this truth he died.
When I rebel against the heavenly father, that is when I sin, I may be mistakenly thinking I am establishing my identity but rather I am actually stepping outside of my identity because as a creature of the Lord, as a son of God, my identity is in the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. When we come to our senses and stop sinning we realize the amount of degradation we have stooped to as a result of our sin and turn to the Lord. Rebellion against the Lord is actually rebellion against ourselves.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright @1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/merciful-father-prodigal-son-2629952/.