The 3 Roads Of The Prodigal Son

The 3 Roads Of The Prodigal Son May 2, 2023

three paths meet
Photo by T Cairns

The 3 roads of the prodigal son are something you need to consider.  If you’re a church-going person, you know The Prodigal Son’s story. You can read it in Luke 15:11 – 31. It is universal in its message. Most of us know someone who left home at 18 to start a new life. Some want to follow their dream. Others just want to get away from their parents. Some have to leave because they’re kicked out. Still, others leave because of abuse. This particular story, however, is about an offense. Let me explain.

This parable is part of a theme in Luke 15. First, there’s a story about a lost sheep who left the flock. He was 1 sheep out of 100. Jesus said that a good shepherd will leave the 99 and go rescue the 1 who wandered. Next, is a story about a woman who lost 1 of her 10  silver coins. She searches everywhere until she finds it. Then she calls her friends and they all rejoice. Jesus ended both stories similarly. He told them there is more rejoicing in heaven over the 1 recovered lost sheep or coin than all the rest. His audience was tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and teachers of the law of Moses.

The Prodigal Son Wants His Inheritance

Having shown that God places a high value on rescuing the lost, he then made it personal by humanizing the idea; a man loses his son. He only had two. We do not know why there is no mention of a mother. Simply a man and his 2 sons. For some reason, the younger son went to his father and made a demand; “Father, give me my share of the estate.”  Wow! The son must have felt he had a good reason. It is entirely reasonable to consider that there may have been some sort of trauma involved in his decision. I think he was offended. I’ll explain why a little later. It seems reasonable there was a deeper conversation, but we don’t know that. All we know is that “…he divided his property between them. Apparently, he appraised the value of the estate (the Greek word “ousais” denotes wealth or substance) and gave the son his 1/2, or maybe his 1/3. Whatever the amount, it was a sizable sum. After which he took a few days to get his things together and left.

The Prodigal Son On The Road

Road No. 1 – The Road Away From Home

We know that the road away from home is always long. Even if it’s the next town, it seems like a long way. Verse 13, though, refers to the destination as a “distant” place. It’s no stretch to see that as a description of a long journey in wide and open spaces. Maybe he knew where he was going, but I don’t think so. He’d probably heard about the place from visitors or even talk among the servants.  In his mind, it was a place where he had set his hopes. No doubt he imagined a place of opportunity, money, new friends, and good times without rules. Every day, the destination looked better to his imagination. Eventually, he made it! He wasted no time, but he certainly wasted his money. The word prodigal means to waste. He made new friends and likely made sure everyone had a good time. Verse 13 describes it as “wild living.”

Road No. 2 – The Road of Escape

The 2nd road is a road of escape; escape from what? Well, his dad owned an estate. The picture is one of plenty of lands, animals, farming, and servants – but no fun. He had an older brother and a father. He was probably sick of being told what to do, so he rebelled. Anyone will get tired of constantly being under someone’s thumb. We know his road was a way to escape because the Bible immediately says when he arrived, “he squandered his wealth.” Money; takes years to accumulate, but days to spend. His money was gone, just like that! He spent it all. Nothing was left. He took his entire inheritance and escaped to emptiness.


The road to escape is usually empty

The road to escape is usually empty: empty hopes, empty promises, and empty pockets. Just in time for the famine. Stuff happens! We say it all the time. Money disappears, credit is used, bills pile up, and the economy tanks just like we have seen over and over again. Now, though, he had no friends left and no way to get more money. He needed to eat so he hired himself out to a citizen of that country. As soon as he was hired, the boss sent him out to the fields to feed the pigs. We all know that Jews considered pigs unclean. Jesus used this imagery to paint a picture of homelessness, poverty, and loss of self-respect. He would’ve even eaten the pig’s food, but there wasn’t enough. “Nobody would give him a thing.” v 16. He’d lost it all. Finally, he woke up and came to his senses. “What am I doing here? Dad’s servants live better than this. They have plenty of food and I’m starving over here.” v 17.

“I will!” Those are two powerful words. He was hungry and weak but he gathered himself and with what little strength was left, he declared “I will get up from here and go back to my father.” Before he left, he rehearsed what he wanted to say. He tried out a few phrases and changed a word or two. Then, the truth hit him; I’m going to tell it like it is. I’ll say, “Father, I have sinned. I’m so sorry. I have sinned against God and I’ve sinned against you. I’m not worthy to be called your son. Just make me like one of your hired servants.” So, he got up and left for home.

The Prodigal Son Walking Back Home

Road No. 3 – The Long Road Home

The road was long enough the first time when he left home for that distant country. Then, he had food, drink, and money. There was famine in the land and famine in his heart. He’d lost all self-respect. Once a person loses their self-respect they can’t see who they are. Their sense of self becomes a blur. Their purpose is nothing more than a passing thought. We’re told that survival is our strongest instinct. This time the road seemed longer. Returning is hard because of the mixed emotions. There is hope and fear, love and angst. Plus, he was starving.  He most likely ate scraps of food from trash heaps. He probably drank water from what little was left in the streams that he came upon

This is a fictional account but it’s occurred millions of times.

Perhaps you have wandered off the beaten path or lost your way. Maybe because of an offense you abruptly changed your life and that of others by moving out. It’s hard on a parent to see a child leave even in the best of circumstances. Now, there’s a reason for the son to return to his father with his tail between his legs. He knows that his brother will mock him, the servants will as well, and maybe even his dad. But as he made his way home, a different story unfolded. If the beginning was a tale of pain and rebellion, the ending is one of redemption and hope.

The Father See The Prodigal

He was still a long way off…

Scripture says that he was still a long way off, somewhere in the distance when the father saw him. Some have speculated that the father looked for his boy every day. I think it was a surprise. I think he happened to see something far in the distance. I can see him raise his right hand and squint as he shields his face from the sun. He keeps looking until the little dot on the horizon appears to grow. Soon it has a shape; arms and legs. It seems to move in the heat of the afternoon sun as Dad takes a closer look. I imagine he calls a servant over to see what he thinks. He was filled with compassion so he ran out to meet his son, embraced, and kissed him.

The Father Embraces The Prodigal

“This son of mine was dead and is alive again,”

That’s when the son started with his apology and requested to be a servant. When I read this story, I feel like the father is trembling with love and pity. The boy doesn’t have shoes, his clothes are dirty, and he generally looks like a bum. The son admits to feeling unworthy. But the father’s response is to call for the servants to bring him some sandals, a robe, and a ring. Then he orders them to kill a fatted calf and prepare for a feast. His response had to shock the young man. What makes the story come alive is when the father explains, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again! He was lost and is found!

A Round Trip Ticket

We’ll never know exactly what Jesus had in mind as the reason why the prodigal son left home. The things I’ve written here are as I imagine them. I think he was offended. The reason I think that is because he asks for his entire inheritance and leaves. A person receives an inheritance after someone dies. There must have been something that felt like death; a disagreement, an argument, maybe something between him and the older brother. In any case, carrying an offense is asking for trouble whether it’s justified or not.  An offense has the sway to lead a person down a long road to a place of empty promises. In the end, you’ll have to make your way back home. In the Kingdom of God, you will be received as a son as soon as you decide to return. At least you’re home, under the Father’s care. If you or someone you know has wandered off the path, or left home with an offense in your heart, or even if you’ve had to run to be safe, your Heavenly Father will always meet you with open arms. Even in the most extreme circumstances, God’s love is constant and he’s keeping an eye on the road that leads you home.

Click here for my new album, Legacy – Songs For My Family.

Thirteen original songs for my wife, children, and grandchildren. Beautifully orchestrated and featuring some of Motor City’s finest musicians.

“With each song, Ken shows his love of music in a variety of styles from Jazz to Folk, Americana…I am also absolutely blown away by the fantastic production of this recording.    Bravo!!” – Doyle Dykes, World-renowned finger-style guitarist.;

“Ken Shelton’s new “Legacy, Songs for My Family” album is a delightful snapshot of gratitude for the Christian family. There are songs of love, joy, and devotion, all pointing to the faithfulness of God. The arrangements include rich chords and lush accompaniment, all with soaring melodies featuring Ken’s lyric tenor voice.” Russell Mauldin, Exclusive Songwriter/Producer Capitol CMG Publishing.


Here is the link for you to order my book Covenant Talk – Words That Set Free. 

It’s the story of how God uses everyday language to help us heal from trauma.

Using common, everyday words and heaven-spun expressions, Shelton extends hope to readers experiencing any sort of trauma.  Originally written as a collection of essays, Covenant Talk has developed into a memoir that reveals the healing power of language.” AuthorHouse

About Ken Shelton
ABOUT KEN SHELTON I am the Director of GracePointe Guidance Ministries, a network of pastoral counselors and licensed therapists. In addition, I have served as a local church pastor for 35 years. I am an ordained bishop in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). I sit on the Council of Bishops for the Evangel. Association of Churches and Ministries (Roseville, MI). I am also a songwriter, recording artist, and author. Disclaimer: I do not claim to be a licensed therapist or psychologist. This article is for informational and inspirational purposes and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health therapy. You can read more about the author here. You can read more about the author here.

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