He had a kind father and a safe home. He knew he had forfeited his “right” to make any claims on his father’s kindness; he knew he no longer “deserved” to live in his father’s house. He had squandered his inheritance. He figured he could only expect to live as a hired servant.
But he still knew he belonged under his father’s roof. He knew he had an identity that even all his self-centered mistakes could not efface: son of his father. He did not belong among strangers who didn’t care whether he lived or died. He belonged with his father who loved him.
Question: Did the prodigal son have pure motives when he decided to return home?
On the one hand, he intended to confess his wrongs honestly and humbly. He would accept the place of a servant. He knew he deserved no better.
On the other hand, contrition did not motivate him any more than hunger did. He mainly decided to go home because: he desperately needed food.
Does that fact make the prodigal son’s motives ‘impure?’ I don’t think so. To me, the purest thing about this parable is the prodigal son’s unquestioning confidence in the unbreakable bond that unites him to his father. He took that bond for granted. And that seems to me to be the fundamental point of the parable.
The prodigal knew he did not deserve his father’s kindness and consideration. But he assumed that he would get it anyway. The prodigal’s fundamental motive was: His unshakable faith in his father’s goodness, his father’s kindness, his father’s love and compassion for him. The father would not let his son starve. Period. The son presumed that. Because it was true.
May we have that kind of unshakable faith! That is the sublime wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives, as His greatest gift. To trust God so profoundly that our minds simply lean on Him, before we so much as start to think a thought.
The heavenly wisdom of the prodigal son: Not preoccupied at all with any question of “deserving” God’s gifts. After all, how can you ‘deserve’ to receive the gift of existence? The alternative to receiving existence as a gift from God, of course, is: not to exist. And literal nothing-burgers cannot ‘deserve’ anything. We exist by God’s pure graciousness.
The wise prodigal presumed on his father’s kindness, like the way newborn children presume on their parents’ kindness, before the little babies know any better.
The newborn babe crying out in hunger for the breast expects to be given the breast. Period. That’s the gift we want from on high: to know, in the deepest part of our minds, that God loves us that way. Not because we deserve it. We don’t deserve anything. But because we are His children.