Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, City, begins The Prodigal God with his assertion that the story most commonly named the Parable of the Prodigal Son might be better called the Parable of the Two Lost Sons. The latter name is more inclusive, since the father in the parable had two sons, each representing different ways to be alienated from God and seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven. While the younger brother’s spiritual status is obvious, Pastor Keller emphasizes that the spiritual condition of the elder brother is much more complicated and poisonous. Thus Jesus’s purpose in the parable is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories.
In this parable Jesus is redefining sin- what it means to be lost and what it means to be saved. Although at first glance the younger brother’s transgressions are readily recognizable and the elder brother’s more subtle, the truth is that the brothers are more alike than different. Both are spiritually lost. Jesus is calling our attention to a deeper understanding of sin. Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting oneself in the place of God.
Similarly, God’s initiating love and a repentance that goes deeper than regret for individual sins enables us to have an inner heart dynamic of joy, love, and gratitude. We come to understand that the satisfaction we seek in worldly things is only found in Jesus. We “taste and see” that the Lord is good, awaken to the needs of others, deliberately and repeatedly set our hearts on gospel-mode, and live the Christian life in a community of Christian friends.