After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16
We all are rebels at heart. No doubt you can recall, probably with a rush of adrenalin, the night you snuck out of your parents’ house and sped down the highway in the family car, stars blazing in the clear night sky, and the cool wind invigorating the ride. Or, the time you kissed that boy your mother forbade you to see, only to discover the unexpected sweetness of forbidden fruit. Maybe it was the intoxication of drinking or smoking for the first time, the heady, out-of-body sensations carrying you and your friends to a temporarily altered reality.
Such moments — and the fact that we outgrew them — blur the boundary between when our children are acting out in typical teenage rebellion, and when they have crossed over into more ominous territory that threatens to delay, disrupt or derail their development into functioning young adults.
While the prodigal son believes he is ready for his freedom and independence, his choices indicate otherwise. It is not long before he squanders everything and begins to experience need. He is slowly awakening to his deeper-seeded poverty. He begins to look backward and forward for sources of support.
He knows that talk of his recent stunts has reached his family’s neighbors by now; even without hearing the whisper campaign he knows what’s being said, and he resents being labeled a problem child.
He considers his friends back home, but realizes he has fallen behind his former peers. Maybe it’s because his grades dropped as a result of his distraction, or because his friends understandably closed ranks after being repeatedly let down. Defying the rejection he turns elsewhere to try to close the gap.
What he finds is someone identified only as “a citizen.” Jesus tells us that he “joins himself to” this individual. The Greek word for this, kollaō, means to cleave to, to glue together. But this is a citizen of a depraved land; the son soon learns the difficult lesson that people cannot give what they have not received. When he leans on this friend for support, he is thrown to the pigs. To make matters worse it appears that no one notices or cares to come to his rescue.
and no one gave him anything.
This is rock bottom; the pig pen providing a blunt metaphor for the Jewish audience to whom Jesus is telling this story. Having rejected his family, abandoned the friends of his youth and squandered his resources, the son is betrayed by someone he thought was his friend. He has no where to turn and no one to turn to. Jesus doesn’t specify how much time has passed, probably because the journey to the bottom is not a temporal one.
One of my husband’s mantras to our children is, “When you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.”
Yet it seems that when our kids find themselves in a bad situation they inevitably do the opposite: they dig faster and faster until they are too exhausted to dig anymore.
And that is a good thing. Exhaustion often is the catalyst to revival. Rebellion is exhausting. Rejection is exhausting. Being in need is exhausting. Can’t you just picture this boy, the perfect symbol for every one of us in a state of sin, sitting in his own squalor: dirty with shame and guilt, starving for nourishment of his body and soul, isolated from everyone and everything that he once valued?
No parent wants to see his child in that situation. But the wise father knows that to rescue his son prematurely, to grab that shovel and yank the boy out of that hole, will only result in him digging a new and deeper one. Regardless of how tempting it may be, this child needs to experience the full burden and consequences of his choices before he will turn around for good.
I believe the Lord makes us parents so we can get a glimpse of His relationship with us as our eternal Father. How many times have we refused to stop digging until the consequences, the pain and the separation from our Father compound beyond what we can bear? It’s only then that we come back to our senses and begin to yearn for home.
Start at the beginning: Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives
Read the final part of the series: Part 3: The Prodigal Returns