Deep Dive into Jesus' Prodigal Story Part 3: Privilege Without Responsibility

a mothers love for her adult kids apostasy christian no more family estrangement fathers parenting prodigals parents of adult children Sep 11, 2023

There's something Jesus' audience knew about this story that we might miss. The father's son was asking for privilege without responsibility. 

Here's how Bailey explains this, 

"The direct natural request would have been 'I want my inheritance.' In Semitic languages this is said in two words. Rather he says, 'Give me the share of property that falls to me' (in Arabic and Hebrew, six words.) Why the long circumlocution? The word inheritance is seemingly carefully avoided. Inheritance (kleronomia) is used fourteen times in the New Testament, four times by Luke. But here we have a rare word (ousia) that is used in this story and nowhere else in all of the New Testament. Again traditional Middle Eastern culture gives us the reason. To accept one's inheritance involved acceptance of leadership responsibility in the family clan. The recipient is duty bound to administer property and help solve family quarrels. He must defend the honor of the family against all comers (even with his life if necessary). He pledges himself to increase the clan's wealth and represent them nobly at village functions (such as weddings, feasts and funerals). He must 'build the house of his father.' But this is specifically what the younger son does not want and does not ask for. He wants the money! The word ousia can mean 'wealth' and 'property.' ...His share was most likely property, which he turned into cash. He did not want or ask for his inheritance with the responsibility involved." 

The Unsung Value of Responsibility

I did a simple but incredibly impactful thing this summer. I created chores for my grandchildren. They were simple things like,

clean your room, empty the trash, sweep the floor, pick up around the house, feed and water the chickens and ducks, do the same with the dogs, ...

At first my granddaughters said things like,

"Why do we have to do these things?" 

"I didn't make this mess, why do I have to clean it up?"

"This isn't fair!" 

"My friends don't have chores!"

"TJ (my son who used to make a huge salary doing social media marketing then decided to quit that job and make music) needs to get more money so we can afford a cleaning person!" 

But eventually their (to be honest, it was her ) protests stopped, and the girls began to take pride in their work. After a few weeks I noticed that I was feeling a whole lot better about our living conditions and that the subtle resentment I had (over NOT the queen of my castle, but rather the scrub maid), started to go away. 

The girls confidence grew. Their responsibility grew. Their sense of belonging grew. We were all in this thing together and that just made us a stronger family! 

(It's a huge regret I have that we didn't have our children do chores growing up. The money I spent on cleaning could've been much better spent in allowances that corresponded with chore charts.)

 The Problem of Privilege Without Responsibility

Think about this son's request. Something about growing up in the security, love, abundance and peace that he most likely experienced in his father's house gave him a sense of entitlement. He never would have asked for his portion of his father's possessions had he not felt entitled to them.

He wanted his privileges without his responsibilities. He wanted to have the rewards without the sacrifices. He wanted the success without the work.

One of Tom's favorite quotes has always been, "the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary!" 

And it's true. In fact, the worst thing we can do for someone is give them privileges without responsibilities. We are setting them up for certain failure if we don't tie the two together. 

The Value of Relationship

I don't think the prodigal son really thought his plan through. In his ignorance, the younger son considered the material wealth of his father his most valued "right." Little did he know that the relationship he shared with his father (and his family) was far more valuable than the possessions his father gave him.

In taking what he considered "rightfully his" the younger son left home severing himself from his real inheritance. 

His family.

Think about it. This son left behind a father who loved him, a community who gave him a sense of belonging, and a life linked to generations of men who came before him and could have certainly come after him. 

He uprooted himself. 


This is the most tragic part of the prodigal experience; when a person uproots themselves in an attempt to break free of the pressure of the responsibilities attached to the privileges that came their way.

I don't think I'm going to try to figure out why they leave. Certainly I can wonder and imagine. Prodigals leave for many reasons.

This one left because he wanted to experience the life he might's felt like he was missing. He might've been tired of living in the shadow of a not so great older brother (more about him later). Or maybe he walked away because he had a really great father and he was overwhelmed by the enormous pressure to live up to his father's reputation. 

Something I find interesting as I study the Bible. There's not nearly as much focus on the "why" behind the sin, as there is on the responsibility each sinner has to take for their part in it. We can drive ourselves crazy thinking of all the things we could've done to keep our prodigal from leaving us. But ultimately, they will give an account of their lives, not us.

And once they walk away, just like the prodigal in this story, they can never get back what they left behind. Forevermore they will be the one who broke their father's heart.

Or will they?

This is why the rest of this story is so incredibly wonderful!! 




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