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Grown-Up Bible Stories

Journey to Good Enough

Jesus told the story of a family with a serious problem.

The problem lay in the youngest son. His father's farm wasn't good enough for him. His place in the family wasn't good enough for him. His predictable future wasn't good enough for him. True, he was a son of the family. He would someday inherit his share of his father's holdings. His livelihood would be secure in his part of the farm. It was a comfortable prospect, if not glorious. But he wasn't content. He wanted more excitement and satisfaction in life. He seems to have felt himself too good for his home and family.

His father apparently wasn't good enough either. The young man's disdain led to a shocking move. He went to his father and said, “Father, give me my share of the inheritance. No, not after you die. I want it like now.” [Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.]

It wasn't a good day for the father. His son said in effect: “I don't value you as much as I value your money. Your life doesn't count. You're not good enough.”

Be that as it may, the father figured out the son's share and handed it over. Keep in mind that the father was a farmer. His money and other assets were the family's means of survival. These resources would also have been his means for expanding the business. The farm that wasn't good enough for the son was now going to be less satisfactory for the remaining family. Jesus described the father as giving the son part of his livelihood.

Then, the kid proved he really didn't think his father and previous life were good enough. He took his new wealth and hit the road.

He finally came to a stop in a far country. He'd distanced himself from the norms that had guided—and restricted—his youth. He was on his own, and nothing was too good for him. Jesus described him as wasting his resources with unwholesome living. Today we might say he had one big continuous party. In financial terms, he wasted the money that could have met his needs for the rest of his natural life. Things got wild enough that rumors filtered back home about money spent on prostitutes. From his perspective, he had his inheritance. He was wealthy. He could afford what he wanted, and nothing was too good for him.

Jesus didn't indicate exactly how long it took the young man to blow through a major part of his dad's lifework. But eventually, his wonderful pile of money became a not-so-wonderful pile of money. Then his pile of money became a nonexistent pile of money. He was broke, and now everything was too good for a man of his means.

Things only got worse. Famine came to the land. A famine, of course, was a serious food shortage. Such shortages in the ancient world could be the result of political exploitation or of crop failure. As food became scarce, the simple act of eating became increasingly expensive. Such inflation can tax even wealthy homes. The situation left the penniless young foreigner facing starvation. Now, even food was too good for the wasteful son.

Finally, he took a job on a hog farm. In his previous life, this job definitely would not have been good enough. He was, after all, Jewish, and the Jewish religion did not allow pork. In his father's house he was too good to even come near this job. But he'd rejected his father's house as not good enough. Now, he wasn't even good enough to make his living as a servant on a pig farm. We know he wasn't good enough, because he was starving even as he did his job. Why he took a job that wouldn't pay enough to feed him is a good question. It seems logical that he was promised payment at a certain point in the future, or the opportunity to eat what food was left after his employer's family had all they wanted. Maybe he wasted even his meager ration. In any event, he was back to physical farm work and wasn't even deemed good enough for adequate wages.

The seed pods he fed the hogs weren't really good enough for him, but in his starved condition, he began to fantasize about helping himself. Such indulgence wasn't allowed. He found himself not even good enough for pig food.

Then the young man's mind turned back to the home he'd scorned. As he doled out food to the despised hogs, he began thinking about life in his father's house. “Even my father's hired servants have more than they can eat,” he realized. They're at least working and earning a living. I'm working and starving.” And he couldn't even say, “It isn't fair.” He'd burned his bridges with his own hands. He wasn't good enough to go back to his father, not after the way he'd dishonored him.

But the hunger kept gnawing at him. He remembered those well-off servants. At last he came to a conclusion. “I will arise and go to my father. I will say to my father, 'I have sinned against Heaven. I have sinned against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Please let me be one of your hired servants.'” He'd gone from too good for Dad to not good enough for Dad.

His mind made up, he left the job in which he wasn't even good enough for a pig's diet and headed down the long road for the home that was now too good for him. Remember he had been in a far country. It was a long walk on an empty stomach. It was a long, hungry journey to an uncertain future.

At last, however, he came within sight of his former family home. Jesus didn't say what feelings surged through him as he first saw the place he'd rejected as not good enough, the place which he'd traded for a brief pursuit of selfish pleasure.

However the young traveler felt, his insulted father saw him coming from a long way off. The old man came running to him. He embraced him and kissed him.

It was a hopeful start.

The son began his planned speech. “I have sinned against Heaven. I have sinned against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son.”

But his father cut him off. He called to the servants. “My son is home! Get the best jacket! Quick! Butcher that fat calf! Make a feast. Here, Son, put this ring on your finger.” Such a greeting must have been overwhelming to a son who had finally realized that he really wasn't good enough.

There was a party that night. The neighbors came in response to hasty invitations. They ate the fat calf. They listened to good music. They danced. The long lost son had come home. He hadn't been good enough, but his father's love made him what he didn't deserve—good enough to be welcomed home.

The last person to arrive didn't come at an invitation to the party. Rather, the older brother came in from his day's work in the field. This young man hadn't despised his father or his inheritance. He'd stayed home and served his father. He hadn't had luxury or adventure. He'd been faithful when life seemed pleasant and when it hadn't. There hadn't been parties, just family love and hard work.

Now he came to his staid, sensible home and saw a party in full swing. He called one of the servants. “What's going on?” he demanded.

Your brother has come home,” said the servant. “Your father has called in the neighbors and butchered the fat calf.”

The older son was angry. He refused to enter the house. Excellent beef or otherwise, he wanted no part of this disgusting spectacle. He had been good enough, and he knew it. His brother hadn't been good enough, and he knew it even if no one else did.

Finally, the father came out. “What's wrong, son?”

The usually compliant son spoke his mind. “All these years I've served you,” he said. “You never even gave me a young goat so I could have a good time with my friends. Now this son of yours comes home from wasting your livelihood on prostitutes, and you throw a big party!”

Son,” said the Father. “You are always a part of my life. You still have your inheritance. Everything I own is really yours. It is good that we should celebrate. Your brother who was dead is alive again! Your brother who was lost has been found!”


Jesus ended the story without describing the older son's response to the father's plea. That older son wasn't Jesus' focus. He was thinking about another Father and many, many rebellious children. He was thinking of people who had thought God wasn't good enough, only to find themselves so very, very unworthy before a God who was far more than good enough. To each person who would come and say, “Father, I have sinned,” Jesus was promising a welcome. Unlike the older brother in the story, Jesus, the great Older Brother, was about to give His all to bring the sinners home, to make them good enough.

God the Father is still waiting. His only begotten Son has risen from the dead and is waiting with Him. He waits for every person who has rebelled and chosen his or her own way to come home and say, “Father, I have sinned.” Unlike the prodigal in the story, He promises those who will come home a place as heirs in the family. He's just waiting to celebrate. He longs to proclaim you good enough. You have rebelled. You have sinned. The Father and the Son are waiting for you to say, “I have sinned. I am not worthy. I am not good enough.” What will you say?

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

To learn more about how to come home to God, click here: How to Have a Relationship with God.

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How to Have a Relationship with God

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