To recognize the agency required by repentance and to more clearly understand God’s grace.
Luke 15 gives us three parables, all illustrating God’s view of the worth of the human soul. On close examination, these parables reveal slightly different perspectives on our position as sinners in need of repentance.
The first two parables are brief but pointed: A shepherd leaves his 99 sheep for the sake of the one that is lost. He carries it home and celebrates with his family and friends. In the next parable, a woman searches for her lost coin, likewise rejoicing when it is found. In comparing repentant sinners to a coin and a sheep, Jesus demonstrates their worth in concrete, measurable terms.
But the last parable offers much richer narrative detail and introduces questions about sin and repentance that are absent in the earlier stories. Instead of a lifeless coin or a thoughtless sheep, the prodigal son is a man with a will of his own. Coins don’t have agency. Sheep get lost on accident. But this man knows exactly where he is and has chosen separation from his family. Seizing his independence and an early inheritance by his father, he travels to a “far away country” where he meets with disaster.
In the first half of the story, the son’s agency gets him into trouble. But his free will becomes crucial in what follows. Remembering his father’s abundance and recognizing his shameful acts, he picks himself up and travels to that other far country, home. This runaway son chooses twice: he chooses to leave his family, then, he chooses to come back. Think how frightening and humbling that second choice must have been. We aren’t told how he even makes it back home. That journey must have required patience and effort. This is how I see repentance: not for the faint of heart, not as passive resignation, but as a supreme act of free will.
But this story adds another compelling idea when the son returns home and is welcomed with open arms, a cherished child of a wealthy father. It’s at this moment that the adjective “prodigal” comes back into the picture, a fitting term in a cluster of parables about measuring value or worth. It’s important to clarify the definition: Prodigal does not mean “sinful” in the general sense, or “lost” in the sense of rebelling against authority; it means “wasteful,” particularly with regard to finances. In a chapter about the worth of souls, a discussion of prodigality is apt.
In the earlier parables, the shepherd and the woman with the coin demonstrate good economy–they are decidedly not prodigal–when they devote their energy to find lost property. And, of course, the errant son learns hard lessons about the consequences of wasting money. If, however, our lesson is not to be wasteful, then what is the father thinking? He’s already given part of his fortune away to this son, and now at his son’s return he spends more money, gives him jewels and clothes, and throws a party for his friends and family. Who is prodigal now? This father doesn’t profit from his son’s return, and his joy cannot be measured monetarily. Instead, in this last parable, Jesus offers an interpretation of worth and value that is infinitely deeper than that of the first two parables. It is only by the end of the chapter that we understand that to our Father in Heaven we are not mere coins or even sheep . . . we are children. And as priceless children, we have a prodigal Father. He does not dole out a finite inheritance that gets used up, nor does he leave us to starve with the pigs. That can only happen if we choose to run away from him. Turning back to God means recognizing our divine inheritance, remembering our Father’s abundance, and understanding our dependence on him. Together, the prodigal son and his prodigal father give us a powerful lesson on God’s grace. Through our agency and God’s generosity, repentance works to bring us home.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Knowing Her Worth, Elizabeth Smart
It is important to understand that, despite whatever happens, no matter what you do, you will always have value. That that can never be taken away from you and that can never be changed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always be loved and that love and that value cannot be taken away from you, cannot be tarnished or will never grow old. It will always be there for you.
The Cycle is Broken, Myrna Castellar
To repent, I asked, “Please show me. I do not understand this.” And He did: All my kids came to my thoughts. And I thought, I have harmed them so much! I just cried and cried. I said, “God, please help me to change this part of my life so I can make amends.” He showed me so much love in those small moments. I felt like I was being embraced. He showed me His love! I couldn’t explain it to anybody, but I didn’t care. It was for me, it was mine.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Remembering the Lord’s Love, Kathleen Hughes
I’m certain that each of you has felt, at one time or another, encircled in Christ’s arms. But if you are like me, there are times when you are fearful, when the stress and busyness of life seem to overwhelm you, when you feel adrift from the Spirit. Perhaps you even feel as though you have been abandoned. When I encounter those feelings, the best antidote is my memory of the moments when Christ’s peace has come to strengthen me. So tonight I invite you to remember with me what it is to feel the Lord’s love in your life and to feel encircled in His arms.
Eternally Encircled in His Love, Bonnie D. Parkin
I know of a young mother with five little children who called an older sister, her valued mentor, and asked, “Can we go on a hike?” Her friend knew that meant she needed to talk. Halfway through an eight-mile loop, the young mother finally said, “I just can’t believe that Heavenly Father loves me; I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life. I can’t feel that I’m worthy of His love; how can He possibly love me?” Sisters, this was a woman who had made temple covenants and was active in the Church. And yet she still felt unworthy of His love. The older sister quickly responded, “Of course He loves you. You’re His daughter.”
There Is Hope Smiling Brightly before Us, Julie B. Beck
I wonder sometimes if you remember that you are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves you.